Have you had chickenpox before? One thing to keep in mind is that the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox can reactivate years or decades later after recovering from the initial onset. The good thing is shingles may not be as bad as chickenpox if treated properly. Most people who experience shingles have only one episode during their lifetime. However in some cases, you can have shingles more than once.
Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. It produces blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and fully clears up within 2 to 4 weeks. Before the rash appears people often have pain, itching, or tingling in the area where it will develop. The tingling pain and itching makes it difficult to sleep at night.
Usually the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In some cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. Worse comes to worst, shingles on the face can affect the eye and may cause vision loss. In people with weakened immune systems, the rash may rarely be more widespread on the body and look similar to a chickenpox rash.
Other symptoms of shingles can include
- Upset stomach
You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles. However, you can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine.
To prevent spreading VZV to others:
- Cover the rash.
- Avoid touching or scratching the rash.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid contact with the following people until your rash crusts:
1. pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine
2. premature or low birth weight infants
3. people with weakened immune systems, such as people receiving immunosuppressive medications or undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.
The pain and inconvenience that the shingles rash gives to a person can be debilitating for some. Your risk of getting shingles increases as you get older. The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is severe pain in the areas where the shingles rash occurred. As per CDC, about 10 to 18% of people who get shingles will experience PHN. The risk of PHN also increases with age. Children however can get shingles, but it is not common.
Treatments for Shingles
Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of the illness. These include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. These medicines are most effective if you start taking them as soon as possible after the rash appears. If you think you have shingles, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment.
Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths (a lukewarm bath mixed with ground up oatmeal) may help relieve itching while pain medicine, either over-the-counter or a prescription from your doctor, may help relieve the pain caused by shingles.
Also, CDC recommends two doses of recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV, Shingrix) to prevent shingles and related complications in adults 50 years and older. Shingrix is also recommended for adults 19 years and older who have weakened immune systems because of disease or therapy.
The best way to avoid the spread of shingles is to stay informed by contacting your healthcare provider. Self-treating shingles might make the condition even worse.
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