You’re itchy and uncomfortable, your skin has a red rash, what could be the cause? Shingles is a common cause of skin rashes – read on to learn what it is, when to see a doctor, and how it can be treated.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, more commonly known as chicken pox. If you’ve had chicken pox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissues near your spinal cord or brain. Years, decades even, later, the virus can reactivate as shingles.
Shingles appears as clustered red, tiny blisters, most commonly along a dermatome – the path of individual peripheral nerves. Because of this, the rash most commonly occurs in a stripe around only one side of the trunk of the body. However, in some cases – usually in people with weakened immune systems – the rash may be more widespread and look like a chickenpox rash.
Shingles can be painful, or they can be mostly itchy. Older patients experience more pain. Shingles generally lasts between two and four weeks, and symptoms may include:
- Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
- Sensitivity to touch and/ or light
- A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
- Fluid-filled blisters
When to See a Doctor
If you suspect shingles, contact your doctor promptly, but especially in the following situations:
- The pain and rash occur near an eye. If left untreated, this infection can lead to permanent eye damage.
- You're 60 or older, because age significantly increases your risk of complications.
- You or someone in your family has a weakened immune system (due to cancer, medications or chronic illness).
- The rash is widespread and painful.
There is no cure for shingles, but it can be prevented by a vaccine. If you already have symptoms though, there are treatment options that can speed healing and reduce the risk of complications. Your doctor may prescribe you antiviral drugs such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or valacyclovir (Valtrex). If you are in severe pain, your doctor may also prescribe you a topical treatment such as lidocaine.
Schedule a visit with a primary care provider today!