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.

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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.

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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

Continued on the Next Page…

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.

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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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The Symptoms Pt.3

Sensitivity

Anywhere a rash develops, you can expect to have skin sensitivity. This sensitivity is due to the underlying nerve inflammation and damage beneath the skin.

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Blisters

Depending on the severity of the rash, many shingles patients develop blisters across the surface of the affected tissue. These blisters begin as small clusters of red dots that progress into fluid-filled pockets and typically pop on their own. Once the blisters pop, the skin will scab over within 10 days and heals within two weeks to a month. It’s important not to touch or pick at blisters, as the open wounds can make the skin more susceptible to other infections.

Phadungsak photo / Shutterstock.com

Phadungsak photo / Shutterstock.com

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The Symptoms Pt.4

Fatigue

Shingles sufferers will often experience fatigue as the body reallocates energy stores to fight off the infection. Some sufferers may also develop post-viral fatigue, lasting six months or more after an infection has cleared.

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Fever

Another sign of the body fighting off the viral infection is fever. Fever develops when white blood cells fighting the infection produce pyrogens like Interleukin-1. These pyrogens bind to receptors in your brain, which trigger a rise in body temperature to help fight off the infection.

mortalpious / Shutterstock.com

mortalpious / Shutterstock.com

Continued on the Next Page…

The Symptoms Pt.5

Light Sensitivity

One of the early signs of shingles in some patients is a sensitivity to light or photophobia. This symptom is less common and often develops before a visible rash.

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Headache

Headaches may also develop with shingles cases. Headaches can be part of the flu-like symptoms associated with infection, or can develop with nerve damage when shingles is present around the eyes and face.

mydegage / Shutterstock.com

mydegage / Shutterstock.com

Treatment for Shingles

While there’s currently no cure for this infection, there are various treatments for shingles to help reduce the risks of serious side effects and to speed up the course of the virus. Various antiviral prescription medications are used to treat this condition, with the three most common being famciclovir (Famvir), valacyclovir (Valtrex) and acyclovir (Zovirax).

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Your doctor may also recommend or prescribe treatment options to help with pain and other symptoms of the infection. For example, they may recommend numbing creams or gels like lidocaine, or in severe cases may prescribe narcotic pain killers or injections of anesthetics or corticosteroids.

Hatchapong Palurtchaivong / Shutterstock.com

Hatchapong Palurtchaivong / Shutterstock.com

Virus Transmission

It’s important to understand that shingles is a form of chickenpox, and like that infection is contagious. Virus transmission occurs from contact with fluid from open blisters. However, the virus does not cause shingles in other people. Those who contract the infection will develop chickenpox, not shingles. If you have shingles, it’s important to regularly wash your hands, refrain from touching your rash and keep your rash covered to help prevent transmitting the virus to others.

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YewLoon Lam / Shutterstock.com

YewLoon Lam / Shutterstock.com

Those at Risk

While shingles can impact just about anyone, there are three populations at the highest risk. First are those whose immune systems are compromised due to disease, such as those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Second are those whose immune system has been compromised due to disease treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer patients, steroids like prednisone and medications preventing organ transplant rejection. The population that is most commonly impacted are those over the age of 50, as the risks increase significantly with age.

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Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

Prevention

There are steps you can take to help prevent the varicella-zoster virus from developing into shingles. The most effective prevention method is getting immunized with the shingles vaccine. This is especially recommended for those that have had chickenpox and are over the age of 60.

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While a mild case of shingles may only cause discomfort, more severe cases can result in chronic pain, vision loss and even permanent neurological damage. Understanding the symptoms of this viral infection can help you seek out treatment for shingles earlier. This can help not only reduce discomfort and side effects, but also prevents spreading the disease to others.

Sherry Yates Young / Shutterstock.com

Sherry Yates Young / Shutterstock.com

Mar 1, 2016