Symptoms and treatment for shingles
Shingles, otherwise known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus. The varicella zoster virus is the same virus that causes chicken pox and is grouped in the herpes virus. This virus lies dormant in your nervous system and can remain inactive for years. Those at risk of contracting the shingles virus are anyone who has had the chicken pox, anyone who has a weakened immune system from HIV/AIDS, anyone receiving medical treatment in the form of steroids, radiation and chemotherapy, or anyone with a history of bone or lymphatic cancer.
Shingles is highly contagious to anyone who has not had chicken pox. It is transferred through direct contact with open sores of the shingles blister rash. Contact will cause the non-infected person to develop chicken pox, which can be serious to anyone who has a weak immune system, as well as to newborns and pregnant women.
The shingles disease presents as a rash or blisters similar to chicken pox, often with a burning, tingling pain. Generally, the shingle symptoms present on one side or area of the body. Pain associated with shingles can be mild to intense.
Other common symptoms associated with the shingle disease are itching (from mild to intense), fever and chills, headache, upset stomach and abdominal pain. The common location for the shingles rash/blisters is around the mid back to the front side of the chest, traveling up to the breastbone. Shingles has also been known to present around one eye and down one side of the face and neck.
Testing for the shingles virus consists mostly of the patient reporting a history of pain to one side of the body, as well as an outbreak of the rash / blisters. Sometimes, a doctor will take a tissue sample from the infected area to have it tested for the active virus.
Treatment of shingles focuses on the pain associated with the outbreak, shortening the duration of the outbreak and prevention of possible complications. Shingles treatment may include high doses of antiviral medication, an anti-inflammatory medication and pain relievers.
There are currently two preventive vaccines that may help reduce the risk of contracting shingles: the chicken pox vaccine, and the shingles vaccine. People who have ever had an allergic reaction to gelatin, neomycin or any other element of the shingles vaccine are not eligible for the shingles or chicken pox vaccine. Those who have a weakened immune system, HIV / AIDS, a history of bone marrow cancer, lymphatic cancer or tuberculosis, or who are receiving radiation, chemotherapy or taking steroids are also not good candidates for the shingles or chicken pox vaccination.
Living with Shingles
Things that can be done at home to help shorten the duration of shingles and lessen some of the discomfort are get plenty of rest, avoid taxing activity and avoid stress if possible. Over-the-counter anti-itch medications will help lessen some of the itching caused by the shingles rash. It is best if the infected area is washed thoroughly twice daily with a regular mild soap and patted dry. Do not cover blisters with bandaging. Allow air to get to them freely to speed the drying process. Cold compresses, three times a day, can be used to lessen the pain and itch associated with the shingles virus. Compress solution should be 32 ounces of water to 1 ounce of vinegar. Cool baths with baking soda or an oatmeal soak will also help reduce some of the itch and pain associated with shingles.
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