A painful, itchy skin rash
Shingles is a skin condition with painful symptoms, most notably a skin rash that is composed of red spots and fluid-filled blisters. This skin reaction occurs suddenly and causes a burning, stabbing pain and/or violent itching. Shingles usually affects people over the age of 60. In England and Wales, about 50,000 cases of shingles are annually recorded in people aged 70 or above, and it is estimated that about fifty of these cases are fatal. A recent study has also shown that those getting shingles are at a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. Around 25 percent of adults in the UK will be affected by shingles. In 2013, the UK launched a shingles vaccine, which is currently offered to 70-year-olds.
A one-sided story …
The symptoms of shingles always appear on one side of the body, in a clearly defined area in the form of a band or belt. It usually appears on the torso in at least 50 percent of patients. In 20 percent of cases, the arms are affected, while a shingles rash appears on the face or forehead in 15 percent of those afflicted. In these cases, there is a danger that an eye will become inflamed. Occasionally, the skin infection will affect the legs. On rare occasions, shingles spread over the whole body. This only occurs in people with reduced immunity.
Through nerve pathways to a specific skin area
The symptoms of shingles emerge in a clearly defined area because of the ‘process’ of the virus that causes this skin infection: the ‘varicella-zoster virus’, better known as the chickenpox virus. Anyone who has had this childhood disease will retain part of the virus, which lies dormant in the nerve cells of the spinal cord. The immune system usually prevents any problems, but for reasons that are not fully understood, the virus is sometimes reactivated. Most cases occur in those with a lowered protection against diseases and infections. The virus then multiplies and travels via the nerve pathways to the skin, causing a skin infection in the area affected by the nerve(s) in question.
Combat the symptoms of shingles
As a rule, the symptoms of shingles automatically disappear within 10 days so treatment is not usually necessary. If the skin infection appears on the face, however, it is important to go to the doctor. If an eye is inflamed by shingles, it should be treated as soon as possible to prevent permanent damage. In addition, symptoms such as pain and itching can be treated with painkillers and anti-itch ointments. In a few (serious) cases, the skin infection should be treated with antiviral medication.
A spotlight on the symptoms of shingles
The first shingles symptoms usually consist of tingling and a burning, painful feeling at a specific, clearly defined, place on the skin. These symptoms can be accompanied by fever and flu-like symptoms such as muscle pain. This happens even before the skin rash occurs. A few hours to days later, this area turns red and red pimples emerge grouped as a cluster or in a band. These bumps rapidly change into vesicles that are filled with a clear fluid. The affected skin can feel very itchy and patients may experience a stabbing pain. After 10 days, the blisters dry and form scabs that gradually disappear, although faint scars might remain.
Some patients continue to suffer pain and itching on the site of the skin rash, sometimes for years afterwards. This is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.
Ramsay Hunt Syndrome
When the symptoms of shingles occur on the face, next to the skin nerves, other facial nerve branches can become infected. As a result, hearing or taste can diminish, one might feel dizziness or be afflicted by the paralysis of various facial muscles. This is known as Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.
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