Shingles is caused due to the same virus that causes chicken pox. The virus is known as varicella – zoster virus and it belongs to the group of herpes viruses which is why shingles is also known as herpes zoster. After the recovery from chicken pox, these viruses can remain in the central nervous system in a dormant condition of an indefinite amount of time. These viruses can, however, reactivate any time and upon reactivation, they travel down the nerve fibers thereby causing new infections.
The reason for an active multiplication of varicella – zoster virus is quite unknown. However, they usually reactivate when the body’s immunity system drops down. Other triggers for shingles include
- Immunity lowering diseases
- Weak immunity following chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Immunosuppressive drugs used after an organ transplant
- If a pregnant mother has suffered from chicken during pregnancy or during their own childhood, there is a high chance for the virus to be passed along to the child
Shingles is usually accompanied by a constant dull pain or sharp stabbing pain that can come and go. Tender skin accompanied by blisters and rashes could also be the warning signs of eczema. When eczema does develop, it is usually in the following sequence.
- Acute pain accompanied by tingling, itchiness or numb sensation in specific areas of the skin
- After a week, a rash appears on the skin. The rash develops only along the affected nerve
- The rashes turn into red blotches which begin to get filled with liquid
- Sometimes, the blisters merge together, creating the appearance of burnt skin
- The rashes can develop in the face, eyes, ears, and mouth. The condition in which they affect the eyes is known as optical shingles. In this case, the virus causes infection in the ophthalmic nerve causing severe pain and inflammation. If the condition deteriorates, it can lead to a permanent loss of vision.
- The lesions can come out in the torso as well and are very painful to touch
- After the infection, new blisters keep on erupting for up to a week
- The areas surrounding the rash also turn tender and get inflamed
- After the blisters dry up, they form a scab or a crust at which point they are no longer considered infectious. This can leave behind a scar.
This entire period, usually lasts 2 to 4 weeks and in some cases, there may be the appearance of rashes without any pain or vice versa.
The most common form of complication arising out of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia. This is where the person affected by shingles can feel persistent pain and discomfort in the area that was previously affected by shingles. This occurs due to the damage incurred to the nerve cells. The chronic pain can also lead to depression and disability, especially in the elderly people.
There are no medications to permanently eliminate the shingles virus from the body, but only the ones that can relieve the symptoms. This includes maintaining proper hygiene, application of antibiotic creams, calamine lotion, and antihistamines. Doctors may also prescribe painkillers and oral antiviral medicines.