Shingles: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

You’ve probably heard of shingles. But do you know what it is? Do you know how to recognize it and treat it?

In this article, we’ll explain all of that to you and much more.

What Is Shingles?

What are shingles?

Ohio State University’s Wexner Medicial Center wrote an article about shingles. In it they outlined different things you need to know about shingles.

Here are four things you should know about shingles:

  1. Shingles and the chicken pox virus are the same thing - If you’ve had chicken pox, you can also get the shingles. That’d because it’s the same thing. The chicken pox virus is also known as the varicella-zoster virus. The virus lies dormant in your body and may eventually come out in the form of shingles. There’s a 1 in 3 chance that you’ll develop shingles if you live in the US.
  1. You can get shingles more than once - Usually, if you get the chicken pox, you won’t get it again. That’s not necessarily true with shingles. Some people only get shingles once. But some people get it multiple times. It all really just depends on how the varicella-zoster virus manifests itself.
  1. You can’t spread the shingles - This one is kind of tricky. Yes, you can pass the varicella-zoster virus, but you can’t pass shingles. If someone who hasn’t been immunized against the varicella-zoster virus comes into contact with someone who has shingles, it’s possible they will contract the virus. If the virus actually develops to the point of a breakout, then the person who wasn’t immunized will get the chicken pox. The chicken pox always comes before shingles. After the chicken pox has abated, then they might get the shingles sometime later in their life. It’s worth remembering that you can only spread the varicella-zoster virus if your shingles are in the open sore stage. Once those sores scab over, you are no longer contagious.
  1. Shingles sometimes can cause blindness - Shingles usually appears on one side of the body or the other. This has something to do with the way it hibernates in your nerve cells. However, sometimes you can develop shingles over your eyes and face. In these rare cases, it’s possible that the shingles can cause you to go blind. If a patient has shingles develop around their eyes it’s important that they immediately seek treatment from an ophthalmologist. They’re best prepared to help patients reduce the risk of blindness,

Aside from the rare possibility of blindness, shingles are incredibly painful. That alone should inspire someone to seek treatment when they start recognizing the symptoms of shingles developing.

Causes Of Shingles

Carrington College wrote a little bit about the causes of shingles.

According to them, the shingles virus enters the body as chickenpox (varicella) and later manifests itself as the shingles (zoster.) The after a patient develops chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lays dormant in their nerve cells. It can stay there for years. Decades even.

The shingles virus enters the body as chickenpox (varicella) and later manifests itself as the shingles (zoster.)

What happens is, when the varicella-zoster virus breaks dormancy it escapes whatever nerve cell it was inhabiting and creates a painful rash on the skin area around that particular nerve. It never crosses the median of your body though. That's why people with shingles almost always experience their symptoms on only one side of their body.

Doctors, dermatologists, and researchers are all unsure what causes the varicella-zoster virus to reactivate. Some theories suggest that it reactivates in patients with weak immune systems.  Others say something as simple as a cold can trigger the virus.

Doctors, dermatologists, and researchers are all unsure what causes the varicella-zoster virus to reactivate

Whatever causes the varicella-zoster to reactivate, when it does, you’ll immediately recognize the symptoms.

We don’t really know much else about the shingles and its causes. According to Carrington, it wasn’t until the 19th century that we could differentiate shingles from other other herpes diseases like smallpox. And we didn’t know the chickenpox and shingles came from the same virus until the 20th century. And lastly, we didn’t even have a shingles vaccine until 2006.

In other words, we still have a lot to learn.

That being said, we now understand the symptoms of shingles. The faster we can identify its symptoms, the faster we can begin treating it.

Shingles Symptoms

The National Institute on Aging, which is run by the US Department of Health and Human Services wrote about the symptoms of shingles. According to them, most cases of shingles last anywhere between 3 and 5 weeks. So if you start experiencing the symptoms of shingles, go talk with your doctor, because you’ll have them for several weeks.

The symptoms of shingles are:

  • Burning sensation
  • Shooting pain
  • Tingling
  • Itching
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Rashes
  • Blisters on one side of the body

You’re more likely to develop shingles after the age of 50 but, in reality, anyone can develop shingles.

You’re more likely to develop shingles after the age of 50 but, in reality, anyone can develop shingles

Once when you start recognizing these symptoms, it’s time to go visit your doctor.

Shingles Treatment Options

MedlinePlus, a website run by the US National Library of Medicine, wrote an article about shingles. In their article, they said there is no cure for shingles. Once you get shingles, you have to let the virus run its course on the body.

There are some medications that are effective at relieving your symptoms. The problem is that you have to take them within 3 days of the initial rash appearing. Many people do not catch their shingles in time.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are certain medical treatments and home remedies you can use to find relief from your symptoms.

These include:

  • Capsaicin topical patches
  • Antidepressants
  • Painkillers
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Numbing agents
  • Corticosteroids
  • Cool baths
  • Skin ointments

It’s also recommended that every adult that’s 50 years or older get the shingles vaccine. According to the University of Utah’s UHealth, the vaccine will help reduce your chance of developing shingles later one in life.

Shingles Will Go Away

Shingles is not a pleasant disease. It’s uncomfortable and unsightly.

But it will go away.

Just remember that if you have shingles that they will go away eventually. Keep the infection clean and covered and follow your doctor’s instructions. So long as you do that you will eventually see relief from your condition.