Shingles is an infectious skin disease caused by the virus “Herpes zoster”. This is the same virus that causes chicken pox. If you suffered from chicken pox in childhood the virus may still remain in an inactive form in your nerve cells. Later as you grow older or when your immunity becomes weak, the virus can get re-activated, come out of the nerve cell and react with the body cells causing shingles. If you are vaccinated with the chicken pox vaccine, then chances of suffering from chicken pox, and later with shingles, is greatly lessened. Shingles is rarely serious. In around 90 % of patients, the attack normally subsides within a month after the appearance of the first symptoms. Most people only have one or two attacks in their lifetime. Elderly people, in particular, may continue to feel intense pain even after the attack seems to have subsided.


Shingles is more likely to develop in people with a weakened immune system and those who are over 50 years old. Shingles may also develop in people who are diagnosed with cancer and are on chemotherapy which may weaken the immune system. People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection or suffering from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), or undergoing radiation treatments can get shingles because of a weakened immune system. Although shingles is a infectious disease, it is not a communicable disease.

Signs and Symptoms

The first symptom of Shingles is pain, burning and tingling on one side of the body. This is followed by painful red rashes on your skin that blisters. Other symptoms you may experience include: itchiness, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, and difficulty in urinating. Rashes can appear on your trunk, face, mouth, ears and near your eyes causing swollen eyelids that may cause vision damage.


Consult your dermatologist immediately when you observe the above said symptoms. You may be prescribed to use anti-viral medicines such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir. To reduce the pain acetaminophen and ibuprofen might be given. Lotions such as Caladryl will reduce the itchiness. Ice packs over the rashes might offer you relief from pain.

There are vaccines available to treat shingles, but this is prescribed only for people who are above 60 years. This vaccine can prevent you from getting shingles, but not treat you if you are suffering from shingles. The side-effects of this vaccine include headache, and redness or swelling at the injection site. Cortisone is also given to reduce the inflammation.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are finding variety of new methods to treat shingles. Consult your dermatologist for more information on shingles vaccine and treatment options.


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