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What is it?
Shingles is a viral infection of the nerves that supply certain areas of the skin. Usually affects people over 50 years of age.
Symptoms: Usually affects area of skin supplied by the affected nerve on one side of the body or face. Severe burning pain in the affected area often precedes the rash. After about one to four days a painful, itchy rash of small crusting blisters appears. Over the next few days the blisters dry out, scab over and drop off. There may be small scars which fade away over three to four weeks. The eye may also be affected. This is a very serious condition.
Causes: Reactivation of the Varicella zoster (chicken pox) virus. The virus lies dormant in the nerve cells for many years after chicken pox infection. Only people who have had chicken pox develop shingles. Emotional stress and /or physical illness may trigger factors.
Possible complications: Persistent pain after healing of the rash (postherpetic pain).Corneal ulcers and infections if the eyes are infected, Possibility of blindness in the affected eye if left untreated.
Treatment in the home: Take analgesics in recommended doses to relieve the pain. Apply calamine lotion to the skin rash to relieve the itching.
When to consult a doctor: As soon as shingles are suspected. Antiviral drugs will reduce the severity of the active stage and minimize nerve damage, provided that treatment starts immediately the rash appears. If treatment is delayed beyond early stages of the disease, little can be done to influence its course or to the likelihood of postherpetic pain.
What the doctor may do: Prescribe antiviral therapy to relieve symptoms. Prescribe a lotion to lessen weeping and itching. Prescribe oral antibiotics if there is an associated bacterial infection. Refer you to an ophthalmologist if an eye is affected.