10 Symptoms of Shingles

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans will develop a shingles infection at some point in their lifetime, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While shingles is often associated with those over the age of 50, anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for developing the viral infection, even children on rare occasions. As such, it’s important to not only understand the causes of shingles and potential treatment options for the condition, but also the internal and external symptoms of the infection.

Causes of Shingles

Shingles emerges from the same virus responsible for chickenpox, called varicella-zoster. While infections of the chickenpox eventually run their course, the virus may lie dormant in the nervous system indefinitely, even after fighting off the infection. When the immune system is depressed by disease or is not working to its full strength with age, the virus can take advantage. The virus then emerges from hibernation and moves along the nerve pathways to the nerve roots close to the skin. Once at the root, the virus triggers inflammation, which can cause a variety of symptoms both internally and externally.

PANYA KUANUN / Shutterstock.com
PANYA KUANUN / Shutterstock.com

The Symptoms Pt.1

Pain

One of the first symptoms you may experience with the development of shingles is pain surrounding the affected areas of skin. The level of pain varies depending on the individual and the severity of the infection. In mild cases, the pain may be just a slight throbbing, while in others the pain can be severely debilitating, making it difficult to even wear clothing over the affected areas of your skin.

While in most cases, this pain will go away as the body fights off the infection and your skin heals, a small percentage of those infected can develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN is a lasting chronic nerve pain that persists well after the infection heals. Those who develop shingles after the age of 60 are especially at risk for this chronic condition.

Tingling

Shingles specifically targets your nervous system. As such, it’s not uncommon to experience skin tingling in and around the affected skin as inflammation increases around the nerve roots.

JGA / Shutterstock.com
JGA / Shutterstock.com

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The Symptoms Pt.2

Itching

Another nerve-related symptom of a shingles infection is itching. Like pain and tingling, itching develops as the virus targets the nerves roots that provide sensations to the skin. In general, pain is more common than itching or tingling. However, it’s important not to itch infected areas of skin, as this can help promote the spread of the virus.

Rash

While many shingle symptoms are not externally noticeable, the majority of those affected by this virus will manifest the infection on their skin in the form of a rash. While a rash can develop anywhere on the body, common places include a single stripe on the right or left side of the body from the middle of the back to the chest, or a patch around the forehead and eyes. If a rash develops near the eye, it’s essential to seek treatment as soon as possible, as the resulting nerve damage may cause permanent harm to your vision.

If you have a weakened immune system, the virus may take a greater hold on the nervous system, causing the shingles rash to spread across a greater surface area of your body. Not all cases of shingles develop a rash, and it’s important to note that symptoms like pain and itching may occur 4 to 5 days before a rash ever develops.

Alice Day / Shutterstock.com
Alice Day / Shutterstock.com

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