Shingles is caused by the same virus as Chicken Pox, but is in this case, an infection of a nerve and the skin surrounding it which causes a painful rash that develops into itchy blisters. The rash usually affects a specific area on the left or right side of the body but does not cross over the midline.

Most sufferers of shingles will feel unwell for a few days before the rash even appears. Your GP should be able to diagnose shingles based on symptoms and how the rash looks.

People typically have chickenpox in childhood and then the virus stays inactive in the nervous system. The immune system does a great job at keeping the virus dormant, but in later life it can be reactivated and cause shingles. It is unknown why the virus is reactivated at a later stage in life, but it may be due to having a lowered immune system which may be the result of:

  • Age
  • Stress
  • Suffering from a disease or infection that affects your immune system i.e HIV & Aids

Symptoms of Shingles

Shingles can typically last 2-4 weeks. First sign of viral infection is a tingling sensation in the affected area, pain, followed by the rash. It can affect any part of the body but typically affects abdomen and chest. Sufferers may also have pain in arms and legs, have a lack of energy and notice that facial nerves can become affected.

Those with Shingles may also experience localised pain around the affected area. Varying from person to person, the pain can either be a constant, dull or burning sensation and its intensity can vary from mild to severe. They may even experience sharp stabbing pains occasionally and the affected area of skin will generally be tender. The pain element can last more than a week before the rash even appears! For those who are young and healthy, pain seems to be a less common complaint.

Once the pain starts, the rash usually follows within the next few days, appearing on only one side of the body on the skin relating to the affected nerve.

To begin with, the rash appears as red blotches on the skin, before quickly turning into itchy blisters (that look alt like chickenpox). New blisters may continue to develop for up to a week, but about three days after, they turn yellowish, flatten and dry out. Scabs then form where the blisters were, which may result in some slight scarring. As previously mentioned, it can take two to four weeks for the rash to completely heal.

Treatment of Shingles

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment can help ease symptoms. Early treatment may help reduce the severity of symptoms and the risk of developing complications. If the rash develops:

  • Keep it as dry and clean as possible as this will help reduce the chance of the rash becoming infected.
  • For comfortableness wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Topical (rub-on) antibiotics or plasters (adhesive dressings) can slow down the healing process so steer clear of these
  • If you need to cover the blisters, try using a dressing that will not stick to the rash
  • To help relieve the itching consider using Calamine lotion for a soothing, cooling effect on the skin. An antihistamine may also be useful in helping to prevent itching at night so to aid a restful sleep.
  • For the pain, your GP may prescribe Paracetamol or Ibuprofen. If anything stronger is required, return to your GP for advice.