Shingles is part of the herpesviridae virus family (which is also responsible for oral and genital herpes). Once infection sets in, all herpes virus work the same: they hide in the nervous system, where they lay dormant for weeks or months (in the case of oral and genital herpes) or years (in the case of shingles). The herpes zoster virus is responsible for both chickenpox and shingles. After catching varicella zoster virus (chickenpox), the virus mutates into the herpes zoster and hides away in the nerves of the spinal column or at the base of the skull. From this point on, the shingles virus is dormant and living inside of the body. There is no cure for shingles, so the virus will remain latent in the body for the rest of your life.
Shingles itself is non-contagious, though this comes with a caveat. You cannot give another person shingles, but if someone else touches your wound, and they have not had chickenpox, they will contract chickenpox from your shingles. Later in life, the person might get shingles themselves.
Shingles generally occurs in people who are over 50 years old, with a higher chance of symptoms as the person gets older. The first signs of shingles becoming active can seem very minor; headache and flu-symptoms without a raised internal body temperature are common indicators that you may be getting shingles. An itchy or tingling area on the body found in a small patch or strip will be an indication of where the shingles will appear within a matter of days or weeks. When the virus becomes completely active, the symptoms can be quite severe. The rash that appears will be covered in painful, fluid-filled blisters that will be more painful than they are itchy. After about five days to a week, the blisters will burst and scab over. After about two to four weeks, the rash will be gone though scars may remains. Sometimes a condition called posteherpetic neuralgia can occur and be chronically painful for months or years, though this happens in less than 1% of cases.
It is possible that the virus will never become activated, and you will have no symptoms from the virus if this is the case. Regardless, there is a vaccine and there are medications that can help reduce your chances of getting shingles in the first place.
If you have shingles, there are many ways to treat the pain of the disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this virus. Various antiviral medications with anti-herpetic qualities such as Fenvir or acyclovir-based products can help reduce the time it takes for shingles heal and can reduce your chances of developing shingles again. Shingles most often occurs in people who are over 50 years of age, with your chances of getting shingles raising the older you get. As many as 50% of people over 85 have had shingles, so this virus is rather common. When your shingles appear, there is no form of medication that you can take to make it clear up the way you might with other viral infections or diseases. There are some practices you should be aware of when you are suffering from this illness, though:
*Do not pick or scratch blisters. These sores will scab over and fall of naturally; picking and scratching will only open the wounds, make them susceptible to infection, and create scarring.
*Use cold compresses to relieve pain. Ice-water infused to a clean towel can be applied to the blisters to help numb pain. After the towel is taken off, certain soothing lotions can be applied. Use of perfumed lotions is highly discouraged, as the perfume can irritate and inflame the sores.
*Keep blisters dry and clean. Using baking soda can help dry out the sores; this will allow them to heal faster and keep them from getting overly-inflamed. Keeping your blisters clean by soaking them with water can decrease oozing, gently clean away scabs, and soothe skin.
*Buy an antibiotic if your skin becomes infected. Infections are only common if you touch your blisters too often or allow them to grow too moist.
*Take medication. Non-prescription pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help reduce the itching related to the rash. If you are on a prescription pain pill already, you should not take over the counter pain medications.
Medications like Fenvir antiviral and acyclovir-based antivirals can also help reduce the time it takes for blisters to heal. Natural antiviral are available without prescription, while prescription anti-herpetic medications will require you to consult your doctor.
Shingles is a severely painful and irritating condition for its entire active duration. Postherpetic neuralgia, however, is a disorder caused by shingles which happens in about 20% of shingles sufferers. African Americans develop this condition at about ¼ of the rate of Caucasians, though older or weakened immune systems are still the prime factor in the development of this condition.
Postherpetic neuralgia is diagnosed when the person suffering from shingles still feels pain from the rash for longer than three months after the virus has become inactive. This pain can last months or even years in some cases, though having the condition for more than a year is very rare. The effects of this condition have been described as ranging from increased or decreased sensitivity to touch, to “burning,” “gnawing,” or “stabbing” pain.
Though there is no medicine that can cure away the pain of postherpetic neuralgia, there are some steps that can be taken to mitigate its effects. Often, anesthetic gels such as benzocaine can be applied to the affected area to relieve pain. In some cases, anticonvulsants can help calm down nerves to reduce pain as well. For some people, opioid pain relievers are very effective for chronic pain such as postherpetic neuralgia, and antidepressants can also be prescribed if the patient is mentally suffering from this condition as well.
Some people attempt alternative treatments for their postherpetic neuralgia pain. Acupuncture, electrical current stimulation, and psychological therapy have been reported by some to be an effective way to reduce the pain of the condition. Because the pain of this disorder comes from nerves, breathing and relaxation exercises can help control the amount of pain or irritation that the condition may be making you feel.
It is very unlikely for shingles to return for a second time in someone’s life; if you have postherpetic neuralgia pain, it is simply (though painfully) just a matter of waiting out the condition. It is uncommon for this disorder to last longer than a year, and medications can help the pain associated with this condition.
For more information on treatment, visit fenvir.com.