Shingles rash on the torso.
Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a viral disease characterized by development of pain, a vesicular rash and later scarring, often with persistent pain, over the skin of part of the face or trunk. The virus settles in or near nerve cells following chickenpox, which is caused by the same virus, and then becomes activated, perhaps years later and sometimes by disease. It then leads to acute skin eruption which is in the distribution of the nerve involves.
Shingles affects an estimated 2 in every 10 people in their lifetime. Although it is most common in people over age 50, if you have had chickenpox, you are at risk for developing shingles. Shingles is also more common in people with weakened immune systems from HIV infection, chemotherapy or radiation treatment, transplant operations, and stress.
Cause of shingles
Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an attack of chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the nerve tissue. As we get older, it is possible for the virus to reappear in the form of shingles.
Symptoms of shingles
Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching generally located on one side of the body or face. The pain can be severe. Rash or blisters are present anywhere from 1 to 14 days.
You should go to your health care provider if you develop a rash. By looking at the rash, your health care provider can tell whether you have shingles and start you on treatment if you do.
There is no cure for shingles, but the severity and duration of an attack of shingles can be significantly reduced if you are treated immediately with antiviral medicines. These medicines include acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famcyclovir.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults 60 years of age and older get a single dose of the shingles vaccine (called Zostavax) even if they have had a prior episode of shingles.
Health experts estimate the vaccine could prevent 250,000 cases of shingles that occur in the United States each year and significantly reduce the severity of the disease in another 250,000 cases annually.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among those who get shingles, more than one-third will develop serious complications. The risk of complications rises after 60 years of age.
If shingles appears on your face, it can lead to complications in your hearing and vision. For instance, if shingles affects your eye, the cornea can become infected and lead to temporary or permanent blindness.
Another complication of the virus is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition where the pain from shingles persists for months, sometimes years, after the shingles rash has healed.