Many of us who have had chickenpox as children may be aware that the virus that causes it can become active again in adulthood as Shingles. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “An estimated 1 million people get shingles each year in this country.” The varicella-zoster virus, which triggers chickenpox, also leads to the Shingles virus. Although adults over 50 are most afflicted, it can also affect younger people and children. The most common symptoms are burning pain and a rash with blisters on one side of the chest and belly. Some may also experience fever, chills, headaches, and fatigue. While the blisters are still open, the shingles virus can be spread to pregnant women, newborns, people with weakened immune systems, or those that haven't had the chickenpox or vaccine. Until you can seek the proper medical attention, avoid any contact with these compromised populations.
Although there is no cure for Shingles, antiviral medication can shorten the duration of the illness. Acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are typical antiviral treatments that are most effective when taken as soon as a rash appears. Contact a dermatologist or other physician right away if you think you might have Shingles or within three days of receiving a rash. Delay in or lack of medical treatment can cause complications such as nerve pain called Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN) after the rash has healed. An affliction in or near the eye could lead to blindness if not cared for by an ophthalmologist.
In addition, the pain that accompanies the rash is extremely uncomfortable and can impede your everyday functions. Ibuprofens can help alleviate pain; however, the following methods can also provide some relief and promote faster healing:
- Take a cool or lukewarm bath with oatmeal
- Reduce stress with a relaxing activity
- Apply cool compresses
- Use Calamine lotion
- Keep the rash dry by applying corn starch or baking soda
- Wear loose clothing
Although Shingles can be quite debilitating and painful, keep in mind that it is treatable. The sooner you seek medical care, the sooner you can shorten its duration, avoid further complications, and speed recovery. Adhere to the following guidelines if you suspect or know for sure you have contracted the Shingles virus:
- Contact your physician right away
- Take the prescribed dosage of antiviral medication without delay
- Follow any instructions given for ease of rash pain
- Avoid contact with vulnerable groups while the rash is still present
- Tell your doctor if you continue to have pain.