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Shingles Rash

Shingles is a painful rash caused due to viral infection and which occurs anywhere on the body, but mostly on the torso. It predominantly appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either side of the torso.

Varicella-zoster virus which causes the chickenpox, also causes shingles rash. If a person had chickenpox, the inactive virus lies in nerve tissues near the spinal cord and brain which later become active as shingles rash.

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The condition is not life threatening but may be very painful. The risk of shingles rash is reduced by vaccine and an early treatment can shorten the infection and lessen the chance of serious risks.

Symptoms of shingles rash

The major symptom of shingles rash is that it normally affects only a small portion of one side of the body.

Other signs and symptoms may include the following:

  • Pain and burning, tingling or numbness
  • A red rash may develop a few days following the pain
  • Itching
  • Blisters filled with fluid that may rupture and crust over

Some people may have the below mentioned additional experiences:

  • Fever and shivering cold
  • Headache
  • Universal achiness
  • Tiredness or fatigue

Pain is the first sign of shingles rash which may be severe in some patients. On certain occasions, which are dependent on the location of the pain, shingles rash may be mistaken as symptoms of associated abnormalities of the lungs, heart or kidney. Some persons may experience shingles rash even without developing the rash.

Usually shingles rash develop as a strip of blisters around either side of torso, while on other occasions it may occur around one eye or on one side of neck or face.

Shingles rash may lead to several complications. Some of them are discussed below:

  • Loss of vision: Shingles rash in or around the eye may infect and impair the vision causing ophthalmic shingles.
  • Postherpetic neuralgia : Postherpetic neuralgia is a condition where the damaged nerve fibers send exaggerated pain messages to the brain even after the clearing of blisters.
  • Skin infection: Bacterial infections of the skin may develop if shingles rash and blisters are not treated properly.
  • Neurological problems: Depending on the affected nerve, shingles may cause facial paralysis, encephalitis or inflammation of brain, balance problems and issues with hearing.

Causes of shingles rash

The causes of shingles rash are as follows:

  • Varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox is responsible for getting shingles rash. Persons who have had chickenpox are at greater risk to develop shingles rash. This is due to the fact that after recovery from chickenpox, the virus can remain in your nervous system for a long period and eventually reactivate and infect your skin causing shingles rash.
  • Even though the reason for this is not known, it may be due to aging that results in compromised immune systems. Therefore, older individuals and those with weaker immune systems are more prone to develop shingles rash
  • Varicella-zoster virus belongs to the family of viruses called herpes viruses, which causes cold sores and genital herpes. Because of this reason, shingles is also known as herpes zoster. However the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles is not the same one that causes cold sores or genital herpes, which is a sexually transmitted disease.
  • A person with shingles rash can pass on the Varicella-zoster virus to others through direct contact with the open sores. But the affected person will have chickenpox and not shingles.

It is important to note that chickenpox is dangerous to certain groups of people. Hence, affected individuals should avoid contact with below mentioned types of people, till the shingles rash is treated and the patients become non-contagious.

  • People with poor immune system
  • Newborns
  • Pregnant women

Persons who had chickenpox normally develop shingles. Before the advent of vaccine, most of the Americans had chickenpox during childhood and now they have protection.

The risk factors to developing shingles rash are:

  • Age: Singles rash is more common among people above 50 years and the risk increases with age.  More than  half of the people who are above 85 have the experience of shingles rash in their lifetime.
  • Cancer treatments: Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may weaken the resistance of the body and increase the risk of getting shingles.
  • Diseases: Diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer can weaken the immune system and thereby increase the risk of getting shingles.
  • Medications: Prolonged use of steroids like prednisone which are used for avoiding  the rejection of transplanted organs by the body, may also increase the risk of shingles.

Shingles rash treatment

Even though there is no cure for shingles rash, prompt treatment by antiviral medications can heal and decrease the risk of complications. The medications may include:

  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Acyclovir (zovirax)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)

Doctors may prescribe the following medicines for the severe pain that accompanies shingles rash:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline
  • Anticonvulsants like gabapentin
  • Numbing agents, like lidocaine, that can be delivered via a gel, cream,  skin patch or spray.
  • Medications that have narcotics, like codeine

Taking cool bath and wet compresses on blisters may help to reduce itching.

The chickenpox vaccine (varicella) and shingles vaccine (varicella-zoster) may help in the prevention of shingles rash

Shingles Rash Pictures

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One Response

  1. Gordon Twisdale says:

    Skin infections are mostly caused by pathogens. *

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