Shingles rash is a skin infection caused by varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once an individual has had chickenpox, traces of the virus remain dormant in the nervous system and are never completely cleared from the body. Later on, certain conditions such as emotional stress, immune deficiency from AIDS or chemotherapy, or cancer may reactivate the virus and cause shingle. Adults over the age of 60 are more susceptible to shingle rash.
Symptoms of Shingles Rash
It is estimated that up to a million cases of shingles occur every year in the US Before the rash becomes visible, the patient may experience several days of burning pain and sensitive skin. At this point, determining the cause of the pain may be difficult. Symptoms of shingle rash depend on the type of nerve affected by the virus. Although it is caused by chickenpox virus, the rash is different from chickenpox rash. Chickenpox affects most areas of the body, while shingle rash affects a specific area of the skin, usually occurring as a band on one side of the body. The rash usually forms on the chest, back and face.
A rash from shingles appears as small blisters on a red base over a period of three to five days. Clusters of fluid-filled blisters form progressively. After a few days, the blisters pop and ooze fluid. They often dry out, form a crust, and start to heal. It usually takes about 30 days from start to finish for the blisters to heal, leaving behind scars and skin discoloration.
Patients may also suffer from headaches, chills, abdominal pain and increased fatigue. In rare cases, a fever may accompany the rash. Also, the pain may continue even after the rash disappears.
Treatment of Shingles Rash
Antiviral drugs and steroids can help manage the pain, severity and duration of the symptoms if they are started early, within 72 hours of the first appearance of the rash. Effective treatments for shingle rash include the antiviral drugs famciclovir (Famvir), acyclovir (Zovirax), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and narcotic pain control medication may also be administered for pain management.
People over the age of 60 can have themselves vaccinated to reduce the occurrence and severity of shingles.
The primary goal in the treatment of shingle rash is to shorten the duration of the rash, speed up the healing process, manage the pain, and reduce the risk of complications. The affected area must be kept clean and dry, and bathing is permitted. Cool compresses and calamine lotion may also be used to control the itch.