Shingles is an infection caused by the virus varicella-zoster 水痘 – 带状疱疹, the same virus causing chickenpox. Even after chickenpox treatment, the virus may continue living in nerve tissues for many years before reactivating as shingles. Shingles may also be referred to as herpes zoster.
This type of viral infection is characterized by a red skin rash, usually causing burning and pain. Shingles usually appears as a stripe of blisters on one side of the body, typically on the torso 上身, neck, or face.
Risk for Shingles
Shingles can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox 水痘 before. However, certain factors put individuals at risk for developing shingles.
Risk factors include:
- being 60 or older
- having had chickenpox before the age of 1
- having diseases weakening the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS or cancer
- having had chemotherapy or radiation treatment
- taking drugs weakening immune system, such as steroids or medications given after an organ transplant
Symptoms of Shingles
The first symptoms of shingles are usually burning and pain. The pain is usually on one side of the body and occurs in small patches. A red rash typically follows.
Rash characteristics include:
- red patches
- fluid-filled blisters, easily to break
- a rash that wraps around from the spine to the torso
- a rash on the face and ears
Some individuals experience symptoms beyond pain and a rash with shingles, such as;
- fatigue or muscle weakness
Treatments for Shingles
There is no cure for shingles, but medication may be prescribed to ease symptoms and shorten the length of the infection.
Medications prescribed for shingles may include:
- antiviral medications, including acyclovir, valcyclovir, and famciclovir (to reduce pain and speed recovery)
- anti-inflammation drugs (to ease pain and swelling)
- narcotic medications or analgesics (to reduce pain)
- anticonvulsants or tricyclic antidepressants (to treat prolonged pain)
- antihistamines, such as Benadryl (to treat itching)
numbing creams, gels, or patches, such as lidocaine (to reduce pain)
- zostrix cream, which can help reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain experienced after recovery from shingles)
Home treatment to ease symptoms include:
- applying calamine lotion 熱痱水 to reduce itching
- applying cold wet compresses to the rash to reduce pain
- taking colloidal oatmeal baths 膠態燕麥浴/燕麥膠浴 to ease pain and itching
Shingles typically clears up within a few weeks and rarely recurs.
Shingles is contagious. If you become infected, following steps must be taken to prevent the spread of infection.
Preventing the spread of shingles includes:
- keeping your skin clean
- avoiding contact with individuals who have not had chickenpox or who have weakened immune systems
- washing any items you touch with boiling water to kill the virus
Although rare, complications from varicella zoster infection may arise. Complications may include:
- postherpetic neuralgia 帶狀皰疹後遺神經痛 (long-term pain as a result of nerve damage)
- bacterial skin infection
- vision loss (if shingles infection occurs near or in the eye)
- Ramsay Hunt syndrome 拉姆齊亨特綜合徵, which occurs when shingles affects a facial nerve, causing facial paralysis and hearing loss
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