What Is Shingles? Symptoms and Treatment

What Is Shingles? Symptoms and Treatment


Shingles, one of the most important skin diseases in terms of public health, can occur at any age, although it is generally seen in people aged 50 and over. One of the most important causes of this disease is the suppression of the immune system with aging. Shingles is a secondary disease of the Varicella Zoster virus causing chickenpox.

What Is Shingles?

“What is shingles?" The question can be answered by the emergence of the Varicella Zoster virus, which is the cause of chickenpox in childhood, as a secondary disease in older ages. The likelihood of this viral infection, which affects both the nerves and the skin, is high for anyone who has had chickenpox in the past. This disease, which is seen in the form of severe rashes, is of viral origin and is contagious. It can occur anywhere on the body, but in most cases it wraps around the left or right side of the trunk as a single strip of blisters.

What are the Causes of Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the Varicella zoster virus. It is possible for almost any individual who has had chickenpox in childhood to experience shingles. The reason why shingles develops in some people but not in others is unclear. But the condition is more common in those 50 years and older due to lower immunity to infections. The virus, which enters the nervous system after recovering from chickenpox, may remain dormant for years in some cases. Years later, it can actively progress to the skin nerve pathways again. However, this does not apply to everyone who has had chickenpox. Although the causes of shingles are unclear, it is thought to result from a decrease in immunity to infections as we age.

The causes of shingles are generally:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Emotional stress
  • Aging
  • Undergoing cancer treatment or major surgery

What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?

Symptoms of shingles are usually related to the severity, duration of the disease and the patient's health status. Therefore, it differs for each patient. This disease first manifests itself with pain radiating to the nerve pathways in one half of the body. Then, the nerve endings appear as sacs filled with water, causing pain and a skin rash that look like a burn. Burning sensation and itching may also be present. Symptoms of this disease can be classified regionally as follows:

Symptoms of shingles that affect one part of the body:

  • Pain and red rash that start days after the pain
  • Burning sensation or numbness accompanying the pain
  • Hypersensitivity to touch
  • Fluid-filled blisters that crust over
  • Headache
  • Itching of the blisters
  • High fever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Weakness

Symptoms of shingles affecting the face:

Shingles usually occurs on one side of the back or chest, but can also appear on one side of the face. If the rash is near or in the ear area, it can cause an infection that can lead to:

  • Hearing loss
  • Weakness in facial muscles

Symptoms of shingles in the mouth:

Shingles inside your mouth can be very painful. Eating can be difficult and this can affect your sense of taste.

Symptoms of shingles on the scalp:

The shingles rash on your scalp can cause sensitivity when combing your hair.

Eye shingles symptoms:

For some people, shingles occurs in and around the eye. In this case, a blistering rash may appear on your eyelids, forehead, and sometimes on the tip or side of your nose. Symptoms of this condition:

  • Burning or throbbing in your eye
  • Redness and tearing
  • Swelling
  • Blurred vision

How Is Shingles Diagnosed?

When you apply to the doctor with the symptoms of shingles, a physical examination is performed and the doctor gathers all the details of the patient's medical history during the physical examination. This disease is usually suspected with presence of pain, rash, and blisters in one part of the body. For some cases, the diagnosis is also made by taking a tissue sample or culture of the blisters. This diagnostic method is called the Tzank smear test. Pain alone is not enough to make a diagnosis. Because these pains seen in the first stage may also be caused by other conditions. There must be a rash on the skin for a definitive diagnosis to be made.

How Is Shingles Treated?

Early diagnosis is important for the treatment of shingles. The diagnosis should be made within the first 72 hours from the appearance of the rash. In the treatment process, vitamin B complexes, painkillers, local wound care creams are prescribed. A balanced diet and rest are also recommended. This disease usually lasts for 2 to 6 weeks. At the end of this period, it resolves on its own. In general, this disease is usually experienced only once but it can occur more than once in cases if the virus does not leave the body.

How to Prevent Shingles?

“What is shingles?” The question of how to prevent this disease is also a matter of curiosity. In the process of this disease, a cold shower or cold compress on the blisters is effective in relieving pain and itching. In addition, it is important for the person to stay away from stress throughout the illness. The blisters formed in the disease have an infectious effect until they crust over. For this reason, the patient should stay away from people who have not had chickenpox before and live with a weak immune system. Vaccination is another way to prevent shingles. The vaccine, which was licensed in 2006, started to be implemented in Turkey in 2015. A single dose of shingles vaccine prevents the disease to a great extent, and in addition, it also reduces the severity of shingles if contracted after the vaccine. The vaccine recommended for healthy people aged 50 and over in some countries can be applied to people aged 60 and over in our country.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles is a contagious disease. The contagiousness of this disease is not in the form of direct transmission of the disease to another person. Transmission occurs by direct contact with the skin lesions of the infected person or by airborne transmission of the virus.

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