How To Tell If You Have Shingles

How To Tell If You Have Shingles

Shingles is a painful infection caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The first sign of shingles is pain, burning, tingling, or itching on one part of your face or body. In most cases, a red blistering rash develops as a stripe that wraps around the left or right side of the back, chest or abdomen. Sometimes the rash develops around one eye or on the side of the neck or face. In other cases, no rash develops at all.

Though shingles is not a life-threatening disease, the pain can be intense and is sometimes mistaken for a problem with the heart, lungs or kidneys. Vaccines can decrease the likelihood of shingles, and early treatment can quicken recovery and reduce the risk of complications.

Symptoms

Shingle symptoms usually only affect a small area of one side of the body. Common symptoms include pain, burning, numbness, tingling, sensitivity to touch, a red rash that begins a few days after the pain, fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over, and itching. Less common symptoms include fever, headaches, sensitivity to light, and fatigue.

If you suspect that you might have shingles, contact your doctor promptly, especially if you are 70 or older, if you or someone in your family has a weakened immune system, or if the rash is widespread and very painful. Also contact a doctor immediately if the pain and rash is near an eye, because if left untreated, you can end up with permanent eye damage.

Other complications that can occur include bacterial skin infections, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), facial paralysis, hearing or balancing problems, and postherpetic neuralgia (when damaged nerve fibers send confused and exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain).

Causes

Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. Most adults in the United States can develop shingles because they grew up before there was a routine chickenpox vaccine and had chickenpox when they were young.

The chickenpox virus can lie dormant in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain for years, eventually producing shingles by traveling along your nerves to your skin.

The trigger for the reactivation of the virus is unclear, but it may have something to do with a weakened immune system, as research shows it occurs mostly in people who have weak immune systems.

Factors that may increase your risk of developing shingles include being older than 50, already having a disease like HIV/AIDS or cancer that weakens your immune system, undergoing cancer treatments, and taking certain medications like steroids over a prolonged period, or taking drugs designed to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs.

Most people who get shingles get it only once, but there have been cases when the virus has reactivated two or more times.

Contagiousness

If you have shingles, you technically cannot give anyone else shingles, however, you can infect others with chickenpox and are contagious until your blisters scab over. It is possible for someone with shingles to pass the virus on to anyone who is not immune to chickenpox, usually by direct contact with open sores of the shingles rash.

While you want to do your best to not infect anyone, you especially want to be careful not to have physical contact with newborn babies, pregnant women, or anyone with a weak immune system, because chickenpox can be dangerous for these groups of people.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of shingles is normally based on the symptoms of pain on one side of your body, as well as the indicative presence of rash and blisters. Confirmation of the diagnosis may be made with testing of a tissue sample from a blister.

Treatment

Though there is no cure for shingles, prompt treatment with antiviral drugs can quicken healing and reduce the chances of complications. Depending on the severity of pain, your doctor may also prescribe oral, topical or injections of pain relievers.

Shingles usually lasts two to six weeks. If you are suffering from shingles, contact us immediately for a consultation.

Dr. Root and Dr. Villanueva are physicians based in Burbank, CA, and their practice Innovative Pain & Spine focuses on the multi-disciplinary approach of treating pain. They approach each case from a variety of disease processes including neck and back spinal conditions, complex regional pain syndrome, joint disease, and chronic pain from spinal cord injuries, neurological disorders, cancer, and other medical conditions. Call us at 818-875-5501 so we can create a comprehensive treatment plan to restore you back to full health.

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