The main symptom of shingles is a blistering rash most typically in the shape of a stripe on one side of the body caused by the same virus, herpes zoster, that results in chickenpox. However, there are more symptoms of shingles.
Those who have had chickenpox are more likely to get shingles, as well as people who are 50+ years old and have a weakened immune system due to another health condition. After chickenpox gets treated, the virus remains dormant in the body until such time it is triggered and causes a breakout of the staple shingles rash.
The shingles virus does not have a cure, but it is treatable and rarely recurs. The goal of shingles treatment is to relieve pain, reduce the length of breakouts, and prevent further complications, which typically involves the use of antiviral medications.
Primary Shingles Symptoms
In the beginning, before the rash appears, shingles symptoms may be difficult to diagnose or can be misdiagnosed. In most cases, the primary symptoms of shingles are similar to the flu such as headaches, fever, diarrhea, fatigue, swelling of the lymph nodes and light sensitivity.
In the next stage, the patient may begin to experience tingling, itching, inflammation, and tenderness in certain parts of the body, typically where the rashes are to appear. Finally, the shingles rash starts to appear in the form of small red dots or blisters initially, ultimately taking the shape of the trademark stripe.
In most cases, shingles rashes occur on one side but any part of the body. The rash can eventually become pus-filled, break open, and scab as the accompanying symptoms also intensify. These symptoms usually last up to 3-5 weeks.
Postherpetic neuralgia is the biggest concern regarding shingles as it is the case where the symptoms persist longer than several weeks and can become chronic, lasting for months or years. Postherpetic neuralgia causes extreme pain, tenderness, and burning on the sites of original shingles rashes, which can result in long-lasting pain.
Postherpetic neuralgia can have a grave impact on an individual’s life as it typically targets the chest and forehead, which can lead to difficulty sleeping, eating, and performing daily tasks.
Although there is no cure, antiviral medications to alleviate pain and shorten the duration of outbreaks are highly effective in managing the condition and preventing further complications. Pain medications, topical ointments, and antidepressants can also be used in addition to antivirals to manage pain in the long run.
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