Shingles is a viral infection that can affect anyone who has had chickenpox. It isn't known what triggers the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles.
The symptoms of shingles include sensitivity to touch, tingling, itching and a painful rash that often appears as a stripe of blisters along one or both sides of the torso. Pain may persist even after the rash subsides. Shingles is not a life-threatening condition but can cause complications, including:
Postherpetic Neuralgia - A condition where damaged nerve fibers cause exaggerated messages of pain from nerve endings in the skin to the brain.
Vision Loss - When shingles occurs near the eye it can cause painful infections that may result in vision loss.
Neurological Problems - Shingles can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, facial paralysis, or hearing or balance problems.
Skin Infections - When shingles blisters do not heal properly it can result in bacterial infections.
If you suspect you have shingles, see your doctor, especially if any of the following symptoms are present:
- The pain and rash occur near an eye
- You are over 70 years old
- You have a weakened immune system due to another medical condition
The primary defense against shingles is vaccination. Adults 60 years old and older should receive the shingles vaccine.
Children should receive the chickenpox vaccine to reduce their risk of developing shingles in adulthood.
Treatments include pain relief and antiviral medications such as acyclovir or valacyclovir. Over-the-counter pain medicines, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can also help reduce the pain caused by shingles.