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Shingles Can Change Your Life So Pay Attention

Lately, shingles have been discussed on ads on TV and in magazines to bring up awareness of the painful virus. The reason for this is that as the population ages over 50 more every year, shingles are occurring more often.

What are Shingles?

Shingles are also known as herpes zoster because it comes from the varicella-zoster virus that also causes chicken pox. In fact, shingles affect people who once had chicken pox as some time in their lives. What happens is that when the chicken pox finally goes away, the virus remains in the body, hidden way lying dormant near the tissue of the brain and spinal cord until it comes up again later in life.

Unlike the appearance of chicken pox that causes fluid filled blisters all over the body, shingles appear as a stripe of blisters that wrap around the left of right torso of the body. The fluid filled blisters are itchy just like the chicken pox, but they tend to be more painful for the sufferer. The blisters in shingles can also occur around the eyes and if not treated properly can result in infection and subsequent loss of vision.

What are the symptoms?

Usually the person who gets shingles will experience pain for a few days before the outbreak of red areas on the body that eventually become fluid filled blusters that are rather itchy. Over the course of the illness the blisters will break and eventually crust over.

Some sufferers also experience fever and chills, general achiness over the entire body, headaches and fatigue. Even after the blisters clear up, occasionally the pain from the illness will last much longer than the condition resulting in posterpetic neuralgia due to damage to nerve fibers.

When should you visit the doctor?

If you notice a rash around the eyes or on the torso or experience pain along with the rash you should see a doctor right away.  Also, see your doctor if the rash is wide spread or very painful.  Although there is no cure for shingles there are effective treatments that can make the symptoms more manageable.

You should also see the doctor if you are older than 65 years to get help immediately to avoid increased chance of developing complications and if you have a compromised immune system due to treatments for cancer, taking certain medications, or if you have a chronic illness.

Certain antivirals can help shorten the illness and reduce the chance of severe complications. Your doctor may prescribe Zovirex, Valtrex, or Famvir. He may also prescribe medications to relieve symptoms such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, Lidocaine or codeine.

At home you can gain some additional comfort in a cool bath or by using cool, wet compresses over the blisters to reduce the itching.

Are shingles contagious?

They can be if a person who is around another who has never had chicken pox. The newly infected person will not develop shingles, but will instead develop chicken pox. It is important for both victims of shingles and chicken pox to stay away from those who are particularly vulnerable to the virus:
• People who have weakened immune systems such as those under treatment for cancer or those who have HIV/AIDS or otherwise compromised immune systems
• Newborns
• Pregnant women

Why do some people develop shingles?

No one really knows why some people get it and others do not, but doctors have surmised that some people may develop the virus when their immune system is weak due to other infectious diseases later in life.

What are the risk factors?

There are a host of risk factors to be aware of for shingles:
• Previously had chicken pox (even in childhood)
• Over the age of 50
• Have a disease the weakens the immune system
• Receiving treatment for cancer such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy that lower resistance to illnesses.

These can act as triggers to awaken the dormant virus.

What kind of complications can result from the illness?

As mentioned earlier the pain from shingles can last longer than the illness in the form of posterpetic neuralgia due to damage to the nerve fibers. There is also the risk of vision loss of a person gets ophthalmic shingles, which can cause painful infection to the eye.

Other neurological problems can develop such as encephalitis, facial paralysis, hearing loss and balance problems. Also a person may develop bacterial skin infections if the skin is not properly treated.

How is this condition diagnosed?

The doctor will ask the patient about a history of pain on either side of the body. The appearance of a rash and blisters on either side of the torso or near the eyes are a n immediate give-away. The doctor may also have lab tests done on tissue from the body or cultures from the blisters.

Do vaccines help?

They may not prevent the development of chicken pox or shingles, but they can really help with reducing the symptoms, pain, and duration of the illness. Vaccines can help reduced the severity of the illness and reduce the chances of developing dangerous complications as well.

In most cases vaccines are offered in doctor’s offices and in some cases they are offered at drug stores. Individuals with Medicare or Medicaid can usually get free vaccines. Many nursing homes will provide vaccines to prevent outbreaks among patients as well. Which is good to know when you are concerned for a loved one.

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