Shingles is a disease that affects your nerves. It can cause burning, shooting pain, tingling, and/or itching, as well as a rash and blisters.
You may recall having chickenpox as a child. Shingles is caused by the same virus. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus continues to live in some of your nerve cells. It is usually inactive, so you don’t even know it’s there.
In fact, most adults live with the virus in their bodies and never get shingles. But, for about one in three adults, the virus will become active again. Instead of causing another case of chickenpox, it produces shingles. We do not totally understand what makes the virus go from inactive to active.
Having shingles doesn’t mean you have any other underlying disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?
Usually, shingles develops only on one side of the body or face and in a small area rather than all over. The most common place for shingles is a band that goes around one side of your waistline.
Most people have some of the following shingles symptoms:
- Burning, tingling, or numbness of the skin
- Feeling sick—chills, fever, upset stomach, or headache
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Skin that is sensitive to touch
- Mild itching to strong pain
- Depending on where shingles develops, it could also cause symptoms like hiccups or even loss of vision.
For some people, the symptoms of shingles are mild. They might just have some itching. For others, shingles can cause intense pain that can be felt from the gentlest touch or breeze.
Long-Term Pain and Other Lasting Problems
After the shingles rash goes away, some people may be left with ongoing pain called post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN. The pain is felt in the area where the rash had been. For some people, PHN is the longest lasting and worst part of shingles. The older you are when you get shingles, the greater your chance of developing PHN.
The PHN pain can cause depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and weight loss. Some people with PHN find it hard to go about their daily activities, like dressing, cooking, and eating. Talk with your doctor if you have any of these problems.
There are medicines that may help with PHN. Steroids may lessen the pain and shorten the time you’re sick. Analgesics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants may also reduce the pain. Usually, PHN will get better over time.
Some people have other problems that last after shingles has cleared up. For example, the blisters caused by shingles can become infected. They may also leave a scar. It is important to keep the area clean and try not to scratch the blisters. Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic treatment if needed.
See your doctor right away if you notice blisters on your face—this is an urgent problem. Blisters near or in the eye can cause lasting eye damage or blindness. Hearing loss, a brief paralysis of the face, or, very rarely, swelling of the brain (encephalitis) can also occur.
Our pain specialists will take your medical history and symptoms into account to create a treatment plan aimed at minimizing your pain.
For more information, contact Comprehensive Pain Management in Attleboro, MA.