If you have had chickenpox at some stage in your life, you need to be alert for the symptoms of shingles.
After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus that caused it stays in the nerve cells near the spine, but is not active. However, shingles occurs when the virus becomes active again.
Most people who have had chickenpox by the time they turn 40 are at risk of developing shingles which at times can occur without any known trigger.
But there are risk factors and these include if you:
- are over 50, particularly if you are older than 80
- have HIV and AIDS
- have had an organ transplant
- have recently had a bone-marrow transplant
- are having chemotherapy
- are experiencing physical and emotional stress.
Shingles may occur at any age, but is more common in people over the age of 50. Thankfully, most people have shingles only once.
The first signs of shingles are usually a burning, tingling or sensitive feeling on an area of skin, followed by a red rash with fluid-filled blisters which develops a few days later. The blisters slowly dry up, develop a crust and then heal.
The physical signs of shingles rash may look like chickenpox. However, while it is usually more painful and less itchy than chickenpox, some people have no pain, while others may experience pain but have no physical signs of a rash.
Shingles can cause a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia, in which the affected area of skin stays painful or sensitive for weeks or months after the shingles rash has cleared. Post-herpetic neuralgia is caused by nerve damage and medical treatment should be sought.
Shingles can also cause other problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, if blisters are experienced on or around the eye there is a strong risk of vision impairment. Depending on the extent of the nerve damage, shingles can also cause encephalitis, facial paralysis and hearing problems.
A range of treatments is available for shingles. If the condition is identified in its early stages, antiviral medicines can help to control the symptoms while also helping to control the rash and minimise damage to nerves.
The pain of shingles may be relieved by taking over-the-counter pain relievers but if it’s severe, more powerful drugs may be recommended. Speak to your pharmacist about over-the-counter medicines that may be best for you and also about any medicines prescribed by your doctor.
It also is important to keep the rash clean and dry to reduce your risk of developing an infection. Cover the rash, so that the virus is less likely to spread.