A viral infection that causes an itchy, painful rash, shingles usually appears as a single stripe of blisters, which wraps around the right or left side of the torso. While not life-threatening, a shingles outbreak can be extremely painful for certain people. Here’s what you should know about this treatable condition.
What Causes it?
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is also responsible for causing chickenpox. When someone recovers from chickenpox, the virus sits inactive near the brain and spinal cord. After several years, however, it can reactivate and cause shingles.
When people develop shingles, they tend to experience the following symptoms on only a small section of the body:
• Sensitivity to touching
• Burning, pain, tingling or numbness
• An itchy, red rash, beginning a few days after pain
• Blisters that ultimately break open and crust
Pain is typically the very first symptom of shingles. In some cases, the pain can be so severe, it can be mistaken as a sign of lung, heart or kidney dysfunction. Some people may develop singles without a rash. In certain cases, a person may also experience fever, fatigue, headache and sensitivity to light.
When to See a Doctor
You should always see a doctor if you think you have shingles, since anti-viral medications can shorten the duration of a singles outbreak and reduce the chances of complications. That said, it’s especially important to seek quick medical attention under the following circumstances:
• A rash or pain near the eye, since this can cause permanent visual problems
• You are older than 59, since this can raise the risk of complications
• You have a weakened immune system due to medications or chronic illness
• The rash becomes especially widespread and/or painful
You can reduce the risk of developing shingles by getting vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend vaccinations for people under 60; however, your doctor may recommend that you get vaccinated between the ages of 50 and 59 if you have health issues that might make it difficult for you to tolerate a shingles outbreak.