shingles symptomsShingles is a painful skin condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus that is also responsible for chickenpox.

Herpes zoster (shingles) manifests as pain, tingling, and burning sensations in the skin, followed by blisters that turn to sores. These sores then crust over and fall off, usually leaving no scarring.

Shingles and Chickenpox

Exposure to chickenpox in childhood can leave the inactive virus present in nerves in the body, with the potential to become active again as shingles in later life. Those over the age of sixty and those who had chickenpox in their first year of life are more likely to develop shingles, as are those with weakened immune systems.

People who did not have chickenpox or a chickenpox vaccine as children may, as adults, develop chickenpox rather than shingles. It is unknown why the virus can attack again after many years but there are those who hypothesise that regular exposure to children with chickenpox keeps immunity active against the virus and those who are elderly and isolated may simply lose immunity over time.

Shingles Pain and Skin Rash

The pain experienced in shingles is usually confined to one side of the body, at least at first, and may be accompanied by a burning or tingling sensation. These symptoms may become severe even before any overt dermatological signs appear.

When the rash does appear it is as red patches on the skin, normally confined to an area near the spine and around to the front of the abdomen. Blisters may affect the face, eyes, mouth and ears and as the blisters break they become small sores. The sores then crust over and fall off within two or three weeks.

Additional Shingles Symptoms

Along with the skin condition in shingles, patients may also have pain in the abdomen, general feelings of malaise and fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and joint pain, headaches, fever and chills and even genital sores. Where facial nerves are affected there may be specific symptoms such as eyelid drooping, problems moving the eyes or the muscles of the face, hearing loss and loss of taste. As many of these symptoms can also be signs of stroke or other serious condition it is vital that they are immediately investigated.

shingles skin condition

Diagnosing Shingles

Shingles is normally diagnosed by physical examination of the skin along with the taking of a medical history. A skin biopsy may be warranted in rare cases in order to test for the presence of the virus. Blood tests taken in cases of shingles are not able to confirm the condition as there are many reasons why white blood cell counts may be elevated and most people who have experienced chickenpox as children or had the vaccine have antibodies to the virus in their bloodstream.

Once shingles is diagnosed it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible to reduce the risk of complications. Various natural remedies for shingles have been proposed, alongside conventional shingles treatments.

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