Shingles is a painful skin condition caused by the same virus as chickenpox. It most often affects people over 50 years old, and outbreaks usually last for 3 to 5 weeks. Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a disease that triggers a painful skin rash. For most adults, the virus is inactive and it never leads to shingles. But, for about one in three adults, the virus will become active again and cause shingles.
Usually, shingles develop on just one side of the body or face, and in a small area. The most common place for shingles to occur is in a band around one side of the waistline. Most people with shingles have one or more of the following symptoms:
Tingling pain or numbness
During the first stage of shingles, before anything appears on your skin, a particular area of your body may begin to feel different. “When a shingles outbreak is starting, you may feel itching, burning, or pain. “ often you will feel this on only one side of your body. The initial signs of shingles may feel different for each person. In some cases, shingles can cause intense sensitivity, making it painful to even wear clothes over your skin, while in other cases, your skin may feel numb.
Blisters crust over
About 7 to 10 days after the blisters appear on your skin, they will begin to dry up. The leaked fluid will form a crust over the rash and your sores will no longer be open. Once the blisters have crusted over, your skin will gradually heal and the scabs will disappear over the next couple weeks.
A few days after the rash appears, it will start to form painful blisters filled with fluid. These blisters can break open and leak fluid that contains infectious amounts of the varicella-zoster virus. If someone who has not had chickenpox touches this fluid, the virus can infect them, and there is a case of chickenpox. However, anyone who has already had chickenpox or shingles vaccine will not be at risk of catching the virus from you.
Burning feeling and red rash
Between 1 and 5 days after you start to feel the tingling or numb feeling, a red rash will develop on the same area of your skin. Most often, the rash appears on one side of your torso, but it can show up anywhere on your body.
You may also have other symptoms along with the rash, such as:
When the rash starts, you should see a doctor for treatment immediately. Starting antiviral medication treatment within three days of the rash first appearing can lower your risk of developing complications, like long-term pain.
Causes of shingles that suddenly appear
The herpes zoster virus causes shingles. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant or inactive state. Sometimes, the virus can reactivate, leading to shingles. Some triggers that might cause the virus to reactivate include:
Re-exposure to the virus
Certain medications, such as immunosuppressants
Sometimes cancer can reactivate the herpes zoster virus.
Sometimes, shingles may cause severe complications in some patients. The most common type of complication is postherpetic neuralgia (PNH). this is the chronic stage mentioned above and refers to pain that persists even when the shingles rash clears up.
PNH occurs in the area where the shingles rash was and can last for months or even years after the shingles blisters clear up. About 10%-18% of people who get herpes zoster will experience PNH. older adults with shingles are more likely to experience PNH and will have more severe pain. People younger than 40 rarely experience this chronic stage of shingles.
Other rare complications include:
If you think you might have shingles, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. It’s important to see your doctor no later than three days after the rash starts. The doctor will confirm whether you have shingles and can make a treatment plan. Most cases can be diagnosed from a visual examination. If you have a condition that weakens the immune system, your doctor may order a shingle test. Although there is no cure for shingles, early treatment with antiviral medications can help the blisters clear up faster and limit severe pain. Shingles can often be treated at home.
Antiviral medications that can shorten the course of shingles include: