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Shingles: Symptoms & Treatment
The “reactivated” virus that causes chickenpox is shingles. Symptoms of shingles include headache, sensitivity to light, and flu-like symptoms without a fever. You may then feel itching, tingling, or pain where a band, strip, or small rash may appear. Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of shingles, particularly if you have a weakened immune system or if your symptoms persist or worsen.
It’s unclear why the virus suddenly becomes active again. Shingles may develop in any age group, but you are more likely to develop the condition if:
- You are a mature adult (late 50’s and older)
- You had chickenpox before age 1
- Your immune system is weakened by medications or disease
If an adult has direct contact with the shingles rash on someone and has not had chickenpox as a child or a chickenpox vaccine, they can actually develop chickenpox, rather than shingles.
The first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling, or burning. The pain and burning may be severe and is usually present before any rash appears.
Red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters, form in most people.
- The blisters break, forming small ulcers that begin to dry and form crusts. The crusts fall off in 2 to 3 weeks. Scarring is rare.
- The rash usually involves a narrow area from the spine around to the front of the belly area or chest.
- The rash may involve face, eyes, mouth, and ears.
Additional symptoms may include:
- Joint and abdominal pain
- Body chills
- Stiff muscles in the face
- Drooping eyelid
- General ill-feeling
- Genital lesions
Your doctor may prescribe a medicine that fights the virus, called an antiviral. Strong anti-inflammatory medicines called corticosteroids, like prednisone, may be used to reduce swelling and the risk of continued pain. These drugs do not work in all patients.
Other common medicines may include:
- Pain medicines
- Zostrix, a cream containing capsaicin
A cool compress can be used to reduce pain. Soothing baths and lotions, such as colloidal oatmeal bath, starch baths, or calamine lotion, may help to relieve itching and discomfort. Resting in bed until the fever goes down is recommended.