Shingles is a skin rash that can be very painful. It’s not always easy to tell before an outbreak of shingles occurs, but some warning signs can help you prepare for when they do happen. These include, but are not limited to:
- Itching and tingling sensations in your body.
- Fever or flu symptoms.
- Sensitivity to touch and light.
- Numbness on one side of the body.
Rashes typically cluster along nerve pathways and may be accompanied by a sharp pain in the area of the rash. While these rashes may appear as painful red bumps at first, they quickly develop into fluid-filled blisters, which will eventually have a crusty surface. The rash typically lasts for 10 to 15 days. If shingles is left untreated, the pain and tingling of shingles can last for months or even years. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia, and it affects 1 in 10 people with shingles (Healthdirect, 2021).
It is known that anyone who has had chickenpox before can develop shingles. The chickenpox virus stays in the nerve cells near the spine, and it may reactivate, causing shingles to occur. The exact mechanism that causes the virus to reactivate is unknown, but there are some risk factors, including:
- Age – shingles typically affect people who are 60 years old or older
- Stress – including physical and emotional stress
- Immunocompromised – HIV and AIDS, organ/bone marrow transplant, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy
While most people only get shingles once in their lives. Some people may experience shingles more than once, especially if they have a weakened immune system. You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles, but you may be infected with the virus, and if you have not had chickenpox, you can catch chickenpox by coming into direct contact with fluid on the blisters of the affected person who has shingles.
There are many ways to soothe the rashes caused by shingles, but the most important thing you should do is consult a medical professional to help with the diagnosis and treatment of shingles. There are various treatment options that a doctor may prescribe for shingles, which include:
- Antivirals that may be topical or oral, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir . These antivirals are best taken or applied within 72 hours of the onset of the rash.
- Topical creams, lotions, patches, powders, and sprays that contain calamine, lidocaine, and/or capsaicin to provide soothing or numbing effects
- Antibiotics, but only in the case of a bacteria infection affecting the skin and rashes. If there is no bacteria infection, antibiotics should not be used.
- Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. If you are unsure of the dosage, you should read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Antihistamines, typically of the oral form, to help relieve the itching
In addition, it is good to practice the following care techniques listed below while the blisters are healing:
- Try not to scratch or pick at the blisters. Scratching or picking the blisters will leave scars and make it easier to spread the virus to others. These blisters will crust over and fall off on their own if left alone.
- Keep the rash clean and dry by covering the rash with loosely bound dressing and wearing loose-fitting clothing to reduce friction.
- Use cool water to bathe to keep sores and blisters clean and provide some relief for soreness and itchiness. Adding colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to the cool bathwater has a moisturizing and calming effect on the inflamed skin.
- While it may be difficult to resist scratching due to the itch, you can put cool, wet cloths on the area to relieve pain and itching. Alternatively, calamine lotion can be used as well. Please do not use too much lotion as it will form a cake-like layer and become hard to remove.
- Put cornstarch or baking soda on the sores for a drying effect, so they heal faster. Do not use thick ointment such as petroleum jelly on the sores, as this will impede with the healing process.
- Remove loose crusts by soaking them in tap water. This will not just help decrease oozing but also dry and soothe the skin.
- Do not share towels, play contact sports, or go swimming, as these may spread the virus to others. One should also wash their hands often as the hands may have come into contact with the infectious fluid oozing from the blisters.
- Avoid close contact with people until the blisters have healed. People at risk of catching the virus includes those who 1) has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, 2) pregnant women and young babies, and 3) anyone else who has medical conditions that cause them to be immunocompromised (such as someone with HIV, diabetes, or cancer) (Healthwise Staff, 2020).
In conclusion, shingles is a painful condition that is best treated by a medical professional. It is better for one to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible in order to prevent the virus from spreading. Many remedies can provide some relief from shingles, including medication such as antivirals, antihistamines, painkillers, and lifestyle changes such as wearing loose clothing and bathing in cool water that works to complement the medical treatment.
Healthdirect. (2021, April 30). Shingles. healthdirect. Retrieved November 6, 2021
Healthwise Staff. (2020, September 23). Shingles: Care instructions. MyHealth.Alberta.ca Government of Alberta Personal Health Portal. Retrieved November 6, 2021