Why It Is So Important to Seek Medical Help If You Have Shingles


With shingles affecting about one in three Americans, it may seem like a common problem, but anyone who has experienced the painful rash that accompanies an episode knows there’s nothing common about it. The same virus that gave you chickenpox also gives you shingles, but why this virus only reactivates in some people remains a mystery.

Shingles need not be a threat to your health, even though the pain can be severe, and if left untreated, it can cause major complications. Prompt medical attention at the start of an outbreak can reduce the length of the infection and the chances for complications. There’s even a vaccine that can further reduce your risk of experiencing shingles altogether.

The symptoms and signs of shingles

The first indication that the virus behind shingles is reactivating is typically pain. Although shingles can appear anywhere on your body, it’s most common on one side of your abdomen. Since the pain appears before the accompanying rash, it may be mistaken for problems with the kidneys, lungs, or heart. It’s also possible to have shingles pain without developing a rash.

The pain is most often described as burning, tingling, or numb. The area will be sensitive to the touch, and if a rash develops, it will show a few days after pain begins. The rash typically develops fluid-filled blisters that eventually break open. The area around the rash is often itchy. Though the shingles rash is most common on one side of your torso, it also may appear on your neck or face, again usually only on one side. Some people also experience headaches, fever, or sensitivity to light as well as overall fatigue.

Potential complications of shingles

Prompt treatment for shingles prevents the possibility of several substantial complications. The inactive virus causing shingles resides in nerve tissue near your brain and spinal cord, so it isn’t surprising that a shingles outbreak could affect your nervous system.

The effects that untreated shingles cause depends on where, exactly, the infection activates. You could develop encephalitis, an inflammatory disease affecting brain tissue. If your infection occurs around your eyes, these may become infected, leading to vision loss.

The pain of shingles can also last longer than the infection through a condition called postherpetic neuralgia, where the affected nerves become dysfunctional and continue to send confused pain messages. Finally, if the healing blisters aren’t cared for properly, they could become infected.

Shingles treatments

Vaccines against chickenpox and shingles are your best bet for preventing an outbreak. Once you have the virus in your system, there’s no way to cure it, but antiviral medications can shorten the duration of active infection, which also reduces the risk of complications. Topical pain medications such as lidocaine or capsaicin-based remedies can help with the pain and itching of the shingles rash.

Some unusual drug classes sometimes relieve the pain of shingles, notably certain anticonvulsants and antidepressants. Injections of corticosteroids and local anesthetics may also prove helpful.

Prompt treatment is the secret to clearing up your shingles outbreak. Most people have only a single episode in their lifetimes, though an unlucky few could have more than one. Contact the Ohio Institute for Comprehensive Pain Management at the first suspicion of shingles. Dr. Saleh can help you determine the best course for treatment. Call or click today to arrange your examination.

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