Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – Can be very painful

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Overview

Shingles (herpes zoster) is an outbreak of rash or blisters on the skin that is caused by the same virus that causes Chickenpox (The Varicella-Zoster Virus, VZV, HHV-3, Or Chickenpox Virus). 

Shingles (herpes zoster)
Shingles Rash (Herpes Zoster Rash)

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) results in a painful localized skin rash usually with blisters (fluid-filled sacs) on top of reddish skin. Herpes Zoster viruses do not cause the sexually transmitted disease Genital Herpes. That disease is caused by another virus named Herpes Genitalis (also termed herpes simplex virus, type 2 or HSV-2).

Causes of Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

The Chickenpox Virus (Varicella-Zoster, VZV) may remain in a dormant state in the body, usually in the root of nerves that control sensation. In about one out of five people infected with Chickenpox, the virus “wakes up,” or reactivates, often many years after a childhood Chickenpox Infection. When the virus is reactivated and causes Shingles, the resulting virus is usually referred to as Herpes Zoster Virus. Researchers do not know what causes this reactivation. After reactivation the virus travels along a sensory nerve into the skin and causes shingles. The majority of people who get shingles are over the age of 60. Conditions that may trigger reactivation, but have as yet not been proven to do so are as follows:-

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • A weakened immune system
  • Cancer
  • Radiation Treatments
  • Injury of the skin where the rash occurs
Shingles Picture

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Symptoms.

Symptoms of Shingles usually affect only a small section of one side of your body. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
  • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
  • Itching

Some people also experience:

  • Fever and chills
  • General achiness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Pain is usually the First Symptom of Shingles. For some, it can be intense. Depending on the location of the pain, it can sometimes be mistaken for a symptom of problems affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys. Some people experience Shingles Pain without ever developing the rash.

Most commonly, the Shingles Rash develops as a stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of your torso. Sometimes the Shingles Rash occurs around one eye or on one side of the neck or face.

Risk Factors of Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

Herpes zoster ophthalmicus
Herpes zoster ophthalmicus (Photo credit: Community Eye Health)

Anyone who has ever had Chickenpox can develop shingles. Factors that may increase your risk of developing shingles include:-

  • Age. Shingles is most common in people older than 50. The risk increases with age. Some experts estimate that half the people who live to the age of 85 will experience Shingles at some point in their lives.
  • Diseases. Diseases that weaken your immune system, such as HIV/AIDS and Cancer, can increase your risk of Shingles.
  • Cancer treatments. Undergoing radiation or chemotherapy can lower your resistance to diseases and may trigger Shingles.
  • Medications. Drugs designed to prevent rejection of transplanted organs can increase your risk of Shingles (as can prolonged use of steroids, such as prednisone).

Tests/Diagnosis of Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

Doctors can usually identify shingles when they see an area of rash around the left or right side of your body. If a diagnosis of Shingles is not clear, your doctor may order lab tests, most commonly herpes tests, on cells taken from a blister. If there is reason to think that Shingles is present, your doctor may not wait to do tests before treating you with Antiviral Medicines. Early treatment may help shorten the length of the illness and prevent complications such as Post Herpetic Neuralgia.

Treatment of Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

Individuals with facial, nose, or eye symptoms should seek medical care immediately.

  • Do not scratch the skin where the rash is located. Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines (Benadryl) and topical creams (Lidocaine cream) can relieve the itching.
  • Cool tap-water compresses to weeping blisters for 20 minutes several times a day to soothe and help dry the blisters.
  • Keep the area clean with mild soap and water. Application of petroleum jelly can aid in healing.

Medicines for Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

  • Pain Relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, for example) or tricyclic antidepressants are examples of some pain medications that may be used. Topical creams (for example, calamine lotion) may help reduce itching.
  • Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famvir), can decrease the duration of skin rash and pain, including the pain of PHN.
  • Pain Medication is often necessary as the pain level is very high in many people. The pain is often so intense that people cannot have any clothing touch the skin area with shingles. Drugs such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Roxicodone), morphine, amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep), or gabapentin (Neurontin), in addition to topical creams, are often required to help manage the pain.
  • Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN) may require additional medications such as opioids (for example, oxycodone, morphine) to control pain. PHN is the pain that remains in some people even after the rash goes away.

Is Shingles Contagious

The Varicella Zoster Virus or Shingles Virus, from a person who is suffering from shingles, may infect someone who has not had Chickenpox or Chickenpox Vaccine. The infected person would not, however, develop Shingles, but Chickenpox. Moreover, afterward in life, you may or may not develop Shingles. Therefore, technically Shingles cannot be directly transmitted from a Shingle-Infected Person to the other. Shingles can only develop in a person if he/she has already been infected by Chickenpox earlier in his/her life.

Shingles Vaccine

The Shingles Vaccine prevents the spread of shingles. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved Zostavax, the first vaccine for prevention of Shingles in 2006. The vaccine has a weakened Varicella-Zoster Virus, which helps to spur the body’s immune system to fight and protect against diseases caused by the same virus. CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has recommended a single dose of Shingles Vaccine for adults of above 60 years.


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2 thoughts on “Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – Can be very painful

  1. Hello I have some bumps on the right side of my chest it itch at times an it has black spots n the center of each bump it looks kind of creepy please tell me wht it is?

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