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Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a common infection of the nerves. It is caused by a virus. Shingles triggers a painful rash or small blisters on an area of skin. It can appear anywhere on the body, but it typically appears on only one side of the face or body. Burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching are early signs of the infection. Even after the rash is gone, the pain can continue for months, even years.
However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Other early symptoms of shingles may include:
The symptoms of shingles may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider will do a complete physical exam and ask about your medical history, specifically about whether you have ever had chickenpox.
Your healthcare provider will likely know right away that it is shingles based on the unique rash. The rash usually appears one area on one side of the body or face. It appears as red spots, small fluid- or pus-filled vesicles, or scabs.
The healthcare provider may also take skin scrapings for testing.
Specific treatment for shingles will be determined by your healthcare provider based on:
There is no cure for shingles. It simply has to run its course. Treatment focuses on pain relief. Painkillers may help relieve some of the pain. Antiviral drugs may help lessen some of the symptoms and reduce nerve damage. Other treatments may include:
Symptoms of shingles usually don’t last longer than 3 to 5 weeks. However, complications can happen. The main complications that can result from shingles include:
There is a vaccine available to prevent shingles. The vaccine is called Zostavax. It’s advised for healthy adults 60 years of age and older, though there is some literature that supports starting the vaccine in patients 50 years of age and older. Talk with your healthcare provider about the most appropriate time for you to get vaccinated. The vaccine has been found to reduce the number of episodes of shingles and the incidence of PHN in older adults.
To reduce the severity and shorten the length of the illness, treatment must be started as soon as possible. If you think you have shingles, call your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
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