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The Pain of Shingles

Shingles is an infection that results from the reactivation of the same virus that causes the chicken pox.  It is characterized by painful and blistering rash.  The pain could start a few days before the rash appears.  It may appear with a fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea and difficulty urinating.  The rash begins with reddish bumps.  In a few days, these bumps turn into fluid-filled blisters.  It may be a stinging or burning pain sensation.  The rash occurs most often on the trunk of the body in a band of blisters around the back or chest.  The blisters usually crust over and fall off in 7 to 10 days.  There may be changes in the skin color when the scabs fall off and in severe cases these color changes are permanent.


Image Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic


After getting the chicken pox as a child, the virus that causes it stays in the body in certain nerve cells.  Most of the time, the immune system keeps the virus in these cells.  As we get older or if the immune system gets weak, the varicella virus escapes from the nerve cells and cause shingles.  If you have had the chickenpox vaccine, you are less likely to get chickenpox and therefore less likely to later develop shingles.

Even though the rash gets better or goes away in a few weeks, the pain lasts longer.  In most people the pain goes away in 1 to 3 months.  Shingles is often treated with antiviral medication to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. Your doctor will decide which medication might work best for you.  The medications work better when taken in the first 3 days of developing the rash. Your doctor might also have you take steroid medicines to reduce the pain and swelling.  To help with the pain, over the counter medications are most effective, and a medicated lotion such as Caladryl or Benadryl on the blisters might reduce the pain and itching.  You may also discuss the shingles vaccine with your doctor to decide what is best for your condition.

No one can catch shingles, but they can catch the chickenpox if they haven’t had the virus or the vaccine.  If you have shingles, you should stay away from babies younger than 12 months and pregnant women.

Call our office today at 757-488-3333 if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated.

~Dr. Samir Abdelshaheed, MD

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