Shingles is a very painful skin rash that is caused by a virus in the Herpes family. It's the same virus that causes chickenpox, and the virus lives in the nervous system of people who have previously had chickenpox. Certain situations and circumstances can cause the virus to reactivate and cause shingles. In most cases, the cause of the reactivation is never discovered, yet it's believed to be triggered by issues such as emotional stress, an immune deficiency and diseases that are hard on the body such as cancer. Any individual who has ever had chickenpox can develop shingles. However, it is occurs most often in people over the age of 60.
The early symptoms of shingles include flu-like symptoms, sensitivity to light and headache. Over-the-counter pain medications can be taken to help with the pain. Sunglasses can be worn to protect the eyes from light.
Prior to the rash developing, individuals generally experience itching, tingling, burning and pain in the area where the rash will develop. The pain can be excruciating, and even touching the area may hurt. Scratching at the area should be avoided. Applying an anti-itch topical treatment can help with the itching. Over-the-counter pain medication can be used to help with pain.
Shingles usually occur on one side of the body. For instance, it may start on the center of the back and then go around the side and stop at the center of the abdomen. The rash usually follows a nerve path and is band shaped. However, shingles can occur anywhere, even on the head, face and neck.
Blisters that resemble chickenpox sores develop, and they eventually rupture, ooze and form crusts. Cool wet compresses can be applied to draining blisters several times a day. However, once the blisters have dried out and formed crusts, cold compresses should be discontinued so the healing process can take place.
A singles outbreak can last anywhere from two to four weeks. Shingles is very contagious. However, once the sores have crusted over, the virus is no longer contagious.
Skin-to-skin contact with others should be avoided to reduce the chances of the virus being spread to other individuals. Contact with people who have low immune systems should also be avoided. Keep in mind that towels, clothing, washrags and any other materials that have been in contact with the rash/blisters are contaminated with the shingles virus. They should be washed in hot, soapy water.