What You Need To Know About Shingles

by Rainier Dennis D. Bautista, MD

Shingles or Herpes Zoster is a disease of the skin and nerves caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.

After a person has chickenpox, usually during childhood, the virus remains dormant in their nerve tissue which can become active again in times of stress or when the patient’s immune system becomes weakened, thus causing shingles. 

Shingles typically cause a painful rash that appears as a band or patch on only one side of the body or face. The rash usually lasts for two to four weeks and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, headache, and fatigue.

The treatment of shingles involves antiviral medication, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir. These medications can help to reduce the severity and duration of the rash, pain, as well as the risk of complications.

Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may also be used to manage the pain. In addition to medication, there are other things that can be done to manage the symptoms of shingles. For example, applying a cool, damp cloth to the rash can help to reduce itching and discomfort. It is also important to get plenty of rest and to avoid stress, as stress can make the symptoms of shingles worse.

A common complication of shingles is Postherpetic Neuralgia, which is a type of pain that persists even after the rash has healed. This pain can last for days or even months. Next, patients who have the rash near their eye are at risk for vision loss.

Lastly, patients who have shingles affecting their face and ear might suffer from paralysis of the affected side of the face, in a condition called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. Patients who suffer from these might need additional medications as well as consultation with specialists.

The best way to prevent shingles is to get vaccinated. The shingles vaccine is recommended for adults over the age of 50, and it is highly effective at preventing shingles and its complications and consists of two doses taken two to six months apart.

Rainier Dennis D. Bautista, MD, DABFM, FAAFP is a board-certified Family Medicine Physician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is currently practicing at the Primary Care Clinic of Hawaii in Honolulu, Oahu and in Lihue, Kauai.

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