What You Need to Know About Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia
You wake up one morning to a red painful rash…
A band of blisters wrapped around your body from the middle of your back around your side to your breastbone. As if that weren’t bad enough, you may also have
– Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
– Fluid-filled blisters
– Body aches
– Fever and chills
If not for the rash, you might think you were coming down with the flu. Instead, your first thought is that you’re having an allergic reaction to food, or a new bath soap or even the perfume in your laundry detergent…
But if you are
– Over 50 years of age
– Had chicken pox at some point in your life
– Have an autoimmune disease
– Have any other health issue or significant stress that weakens your immune system
You probably have a virus called Varicella zoster virus (VZV), more commonly known as shingles. VZV is the same virus that causes chicken pox. Once you’ve had chicken pox, the virus lies dormant in your system until it’s reactivated by various risk factors and you develop shingles.
And that’s a good news/bad news diagnosis.
Contrary to several old wives’ tales, shingles is not life-threatening…that’s the good news.
The bad news is that shingles is extremely painful and you may experience nerve pain (Postherpetic Neuropathy) long after the actual rash and other symptoms are gone.
If you think you have shingles or that you might be at risk of developing them, this is what you need to know about shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia:
Is Shingles Contagious?
Yes, like chicken pox, shingles is contagious. You can pass the shingles virus to anyone who hasn’t had chicken pox. And how’s this for a twist? The person you pass the virus to will develop chicken pox, not shingles.
Fortunately, the shingles virus is not an airborne virus. It’s passed through direct contact with the open sores caused by shingles. Until your blisters are healed, you are contagious. Avoid contact with
– Pregnant women
– Anyone with a weakened immune system
How Is Shingles Treated?
Shingles is not life-threatening and, much like any other virus, it will probably resolve on its own within a few weeks.
However, getting to the doctor as soon as your shingles appear (within 72 hours) is the wise (and much less painful) course of action to speed up the healing process and lessen the likelihood of potentially serious complications.
Once your doctor confirms that you have shingles, usually through taking a complete history and physical and cultures from your rash, the standard course of treatment is anti-viral and pain medications to kill the virus and make you more comfortable.
To help the medication work, you need to get plenty of rest, avoid stress and either take a cool bath or use cold wet compresses to ease the itch and pain.
What Are Some of the Complications from Shingles?
While shingles is not a serious illness, some of the complications arising from shingles can be.
Your blisters go away but the pain remains. Postherpetic Neuropathy is caused by damaged nerve fibers sending exaggerated pain messages to your brain. Pain medication, antidepressants or even anticonvulsant medications are often prescribed to bring relief from Postherpetic Neuropathy; however, repairing the damaged nerves is more desirable for long term relief. Contact your local NeuropathyDR clinician to ask about their unique treatment protocol for treating Postherpetic Neuropathy and repairing the damaged nerves.
Loss of Vision
If your shingles erupt around or in your eyes, you can develop serious eye infections that could damage your eyes and result in loss of vision. If you have shingles anywhere on your face, contact a healthcare professional for immediate treatment.
Depending upon where your shingles erupt and which nerves they affect, you can develop
– Hearing or balance problems
– Facial paralysis
– Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
If your shingles blisters are not properly treated, you can develop skin infections cause by bacteria. If the skin around your shingles becomes reddened, warm, firm, or possibly has red streaks spreading out from the affected area, contact your doctor. You will need antibiotics to stop the infection.
Ramsay Hunt Syndrome
This complication is rare but it does happen. If cranial nerves are affected by shingles you can develop Ramsay Hunt Syndrome resulting in facial nerve weakness and deafness. If you have shingles around or inside your ear, seek medical treatment immediately.
How Can I Protect Myself From Shingles?
The best way to protect yourself from shingles is to stay healthy, control stress and exercise on a regular basis.
The shingles vaccine is often recommended for people who are 60 years of age or older and have actually had chicken pox. Again, this vaccine won’t guarantee that you won’t develop shingles but it could lessen the severity of symptoms. It might reduce your chances of developing Postherpetic Neuralgia.
A word of caution – do not get the vaccination if you
– Have ever had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic neomycin or any other component of the shingles vaccine. Ask your healthcare provider what’s in the vaccine before you are vaccinated.
– Are receiving radiation, chemotherapy or any kind of steroid treatment
– Have ever had bone marrow cancer or any cancer affecting the lymphatic system
And by all means, if you know someone has shingles, exercise precautions!
We hope this information helps you deal with this very uncomfortable illness and the possible lasting effects of Postherpetic Neuropathy. Having a bit more background information on your illness will help you participate in your care and give you a better chance of a positive outcome.
Don’t just live in pain. Call us today at 781-659-7989 and talk to us about treating your shingles & postherpetic neuropathy with our NeuropathyDR Treatment Systems.