Adults who previously had chickenpox are susceptible to shingles, a condition caused by the same virus. Shingles causes painful symptoms including red rashes and blisters and is highly contagious. It is important to seek treatment as soon as possible to avoid worsening symptoms and to protect those around you by avoiding spreading the virus. Dr. Liz Damstetter and the Reserve Dermatology team can help with effective treatment options.
What is Shingles?
Shingles is a viral infection that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, or the same virus responsible for chickenpox. Shingles will cause a rash that typically appears as a cluster of blisters on either the right or left side of the body, commonly on the torso. While not life-threatening, shingles can be very painful and result in further complications, including neuralgia, which is pain that persists long after the rash or blisters have cleared.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles is caused by an infection of the varicella-zoster virus. If you had chickenpox as a child, you may be more likely to develop shingles as an adult, as the virus is still present in your body. Varicella-zoster remains dormant in the nervous system after infection but can become reactivated years later for unknown reasons. Some researchers speculate that lowered immunity as you grow older is the primary reason why patients will develop shingles.
Like chickenpox, shingles is contagious and can be spread through physical contact. Those who are unvaccinated can become infected with chickenpox through direct contact with open sores on shingles blisters. Patients who have weakened immune systems, including infants, unvaccinated individuals, or pregnant women are more susceptible to the varicella-zoster virus.
The primary symptom of shingles is a rash that causes pain, typically found on one side of the body. Shingles rashes will commonly wrap around either the left or right side of the torso, but can be found in other areas. This rash may also be sensitive to the touch, itchy, or blistered. Blisters are often fluid-filled and may break or crust over. In some cases, patients may also experience fever, headache, fatigue, or sensitivity to light. Most shingles cases begin with pain, which may be intense, as the first symptom.
Treatment for Shingles
In some cases, Dr. Damstetter may take a swab of tissue or fluid from blisters to diagnose shingles. However, reviewing your medical history and conducting a visual exam is usually enough to reach a diagnosis.
There are several antiviral drugs that may be prescribed to reduce symptoms and heal shingles rashes. Some common examples include acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir. These medications can be taken orally.
Because shingles often cause severe pain, Dr. Damstetter may also prescribe medication to keep you comfortable as your rash clears. The right option for you will depend on your specific symptoms.
Schedule an Appointment
If you suspect you have shingles, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with Dr. Damstetter. Call Reserve Dermatology in Glenview, Illinois or contact us online to set up your appointment.