What is Shingles?
Shingles is the name given to a painful rash that can extend from the middle of the back around one side of the body to the breastbone. This half band rash is red and itchy, forming into fluid-filled blisters that break open, crust over and dry.
If you’ve ever had chickenpox as a kid, then you usually don’t get it again. With each infection in your body, the immune system creates antibodies. These are effective in repelling the same invader the next time.
However, chickenpox doesn’t disappear, but can remain dormant for years in your nerve cells. In many people these viral cells can reawaken as they age, and can lead to another outbreak of this virus. Now the condition is known as shingles.
Who Is at Risk?
Basically, anyone who has ever had chickenpox can have this virus reawakened. Mostly, people over fifty are the main candidates for shingles. Individuals who are immune-compromised by illness, disease or radiation for cancer can develop shingles.
It is important to note that someone with shingles cannot pass it to another person. Where the problem lies is with people who have never had the chickenpox. Whether young or old, if they come into contact with someone with shingles, they can develop chickenpox, but not shingles.
We have discussed the red rash. It looks like a band that stretches around half of your body. A few days before the rash shows up, you may feel achy or have a headache. The first thought is that you are coming down with a cold or something. Many who have shingles believe that they have some sort of issue with their heart or lungs because of the positioning of the rash.
When the rash appears, it turns into blisters that will eventually break open. It is not until they crust over and dry that you are no longer contagious. This can take anywhere from two to four weeks to resolve.
The main difference between this and chickenpox is the pain. People with shingles can experience intense pain even if they don’t develop the rash.
Because shingles is caused by a virus from the herpes zoster family, it is treated with antivirals. They can help the condition run its course faster or make the symptoms less intense. Also, over-the-counter medications are given for pain. Sometimes antidepressants are needed.
Shingles is a condition similar to chickenpox that older people get. The virus lies dormant and reawakens to wreak havoc again. Consult a doctor as soon as you believe that you have contracted the disease.