- Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, varicella zoster.
- Up to half of people over age 80 who have had chickenpox can expect to develop shingles.
- Usually only older people are affected, but sometimes young people or those with deficient immune systems can develop shingles.
What are the first signs of shingles?
- The first sign of shingles will be pain. For some people this pain is mild, for others it is very intense.
- The virus lies dormant in the nerve cells near the spine. If the immune system becomes depressed, the virus can travel along nerve pathways to the skin.
- You will feel this pain as your nerves are damaged by the virus.
Further symptoms of shingles
- After two to three days, a red rash will erupt on the skin. This will be painful and sometimes itchy. Symptoms vary from person to person; some people will experience unbearable pain while others experience only mild discomfort.
- The rash will consist of red bumps or blisters that are filled with clear fluid. There will also be redness of the skin around the blisters.
- In a few weeks, the blisters rupture and begin to scab over.
- After a few more weeks, the scabs slough off and the skin begins to heal.
- Shingles can leave permanent scarring.
Why does shingles appear only on one part of my body?
- Shingles appears in a localized area. It will not spread around to the whole body like chicken pox.
- This is because the virus is following a single nerve pathway to the skin. These nerve pathways are like highways running through your body. The viruses simply travel along only one highway and spread out on your skin like tourists at the beach.
Where does shingles usually appear?
Shingles can appear:
- In a band around the torso
- In patches on the torso
- On the face around the eyes and nose
- Rarely, on the groin, genitals, or upper thighs
Lasting effects of shingles
- Even after the rash is gone, pain may persist. This is called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN.
- People with PHN may experience pain for a few months or for many years.
- Sometime PHN goes away on its own, but usually it requires treatment.
- Facial nerve damage may cause lasting paralysis or even blindness.
What should I do if I think I have shingles?
If you think you have shingles, see your health practitioner as soon as possible. There are treatment options available to help reduce the length and severity of your outbreak. These treatments range from antiviral drugs to cold compresses, and a combination of treatments may be the most effective.
Natural treatment methods
You may wish to treat your shingles naturally. Talk to your health practitioner about the following treatments to alleviate your shingles pain:
- Capsaicin cream
- Apple cider vinegar
- Clay and tea tree oil
- Change in diet