Shingles is commonly thought of as something that affects older people. Indeed it is more common in those over 60 however younger adults can also suffer with it. I have even recommended a few children be taken to their GP over recent years as it appeared, and was confirmed, that they had shingles. Earlier this year I had what I thought was a mosquito bite above my eye. The next morning when I woke up with burning pain and a feeling like spiders crawling in my hair I knew I had shingles!
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus. Shingles is also called herpes zoster. It appears as a rash of little blisters that is often painful but not always. The rash appears in a line over the nerves that are affected. It usually occurs on one side of the body or face.
What causes shingles?
Anyone who has ever had chicken pox can get shingles. This is because after having chicken pox the herpes zoster virus stays in our nerves where it doesn’t do anything unless it is activated. It can be activated if our immune system is low or weakened due to physical or emotional stress.
You cannot catch shingles from someone who has it. If you have never had chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccination you can catch chicken pox from someone who has shingles if you come in to contact with fluid from the blisters.
Treatment of shingles
It is important for shingles to be diagnosed within three days of it appearing so that antiviral medication can be prescribed by your GP and taken. After this time it is not effective and cannot be prescribed. Recovery is usually quicker and better if treatment is given.
If there is pain paracetamol and/or anti-inflammatories can be taken. If these aren’t enough your GP can prescribed something stronger.
As well as general pain shingles can cause itch and burning which is common in nerve pain. For me it felt like a sparkler touching my face as well as feelings of things crawling in my hair as the virus affected the line of nerves to my head.
Recovery from shingles
The rash can last up to two weeks. In severe cases pain can be present in the area where the rash was long after it has disappeared. Pain relief medication prescribed by your GP can help. There is also a capsaicin cream that can be used that can be effective for this type of nerve pain.
For me I find that if I’m tired or stressed I have very mild symptoms in the area where my rash was.
Vaccination for shingles
There is a vaccination for those over 50 years for shingles. For younger people the chicken pox vaccination provides protection from chicken pox and shingles.