The Most 8 Best Truths And Approach About Shingles

It all starts when we get chickenpox. After healing, the VZV virus that caused it stays in an inactive form in our nerve ganglia. However, this virus can wake up years later. It then causes a new skin condition, often very painful: shingles. How can we easily recognize this disease? Can it be prevented? What treatment should be followed in case of infection?

In this article, we will provide you with all the answers to the questions you may have about shingles.

What are shingles?

Shingle is a viral infectious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), also responsible for chickenpox. Its main symptoms are the unilateral localized appearance of red blisters, accompanied by burning sensations and fairly severe pain.

The risk of contracting shingles increases significantly with age or when our immune defenses are weakened. If you experience symptoms similar to those of shingles, it is recommended that you consult a doctor as soon as possible: if treatment is given too late, the risk of complications increases greatly.

The Most 8 Best Truths And Approach About Shingles
photo credit: SHVETS production

What are the first signs of shingles?

  • Headache, discomfort with light;
  • A feeling of general malaise may occur;
  • Fever is rare, regardless of location;
  • Burning, itching, and tingling in the affected area;
  • The rash appears on one side of the body only.

When the chickenpox virus becomes active again, it travels through the nerve pathways and attaches itself to the surface of the skin along a nerve.

Good to know: when rashes appear on more than one part of the body, it may be another skin condition such as hives or eczema due to an allergy, for example. Some parasites, such as the Sarcoptes that cause scabies, also cause rashes.

Symptoms of the acute phase of shingles

Shingles then progress over time and may bring other symptoms:

  • Pain with tingling and sensitivity disorders;
  • Always on one side of the body;
  • In the hemicycle for the thorax and the abdomen along a nerve root, not going beyond the median line;
  • Presence of a satellite lymph node;
  • Red appearance, then vesicular in 24h, rounded, in clusters than in bubbles;
  • Desiccation (elimination of moisture) and healing in 10 days;
  • Depigmented scar often indelible;
  • Several outbreaks possible, the evolution of 2 to 3 weeks.

Depending on the topography, the disease can develop mainly on the thoracic area, but also on the abdominal and lumbar area, as well as on other limbs. Also, it is possible to have shingles on the leg for example. As with most viral infections, the shingle is a disease that causes fatigue.

What triggers shingles?

Why do shingles come back, only in certain people? And what can be done to avoid it? If scientists have not yet managed to answer this question, they have highlighted certain risk factors:

  • age: it appears that the older individuals are, the greater their risk of contracting shingles. People over 60 years old are the most affected by this disease.
  • Weakened immune defenses: when immunity is weakened, the body seems to have more difficulty keeping the virus inactive. For this reason, people with diseases affecting the immune system (cancer, HIV …) are also more likely to develop shingles.
  • Stress: shingles can appear during a period of stress.

How long do shingles last?

The incidence and duration of shingles infection is often correlated with the age of the patient: in 50% of cases after 50 years of age, in more than 70% of cases over 70 years of age. The duration of symptoms varies from patient to patient. The rash may last 3 to 4 weeks, but sometimes longer. The usual time of disappearance of the infection is 6 months; some symptoms can be definitive and very disabling.

Contagion, possible complications, and prevention when are shingles contagious

An affected individual can never transmit shingles directly. However, being a carrier of the VZV virus in an active form, he/she is likely to inoculate chickenpox. It is therefore strongly recommended that patients avoid all physical contact with people around them who have never contracted this disease. Increased vigilance is recommended concerning pregnant women (risks for the fetus), infants, and immunocompromised persons.

How serious are shingles?

Although not a fatal disease, shingles can lead to serious complications. It is therefore a case of therapeutic urgency, particularly in the case of ophthalmic shingles.

  • Ophthalmic or ocular shingles, appearing on the face, can not only lead to facial paralysis but also spread to the inside of the eye. It is then urgent to consult an ophthalmologist.
  • Similarly, shingles in the ear can cause significant damage (facial paralysis, hearing loss, etc.).
  • Shingles can also cause post-herpes zoster pain: persistent pain beyond the 30th day after the eruption.

How can I prevent shingles?

The first solution is of course to never get chickenpox.

  • People 65 years of age and older who have had chickenpox can receive a shingles vaccine.
  • This vaccine does not completely protect against the disease, but it significantly reduces the risk of post-zoster pain.
  • Finally, to avoid the reactivation of the VZV virus, it is recommended to protect your immune system.

Treatment of shingles


Antiviral treatment

Shingles are not fatal, but they can lead to significant complications. To avoid them and to accelerate healing, antiviral treatment must be administered quickly. To be fully effective, it must be administered as soon as possible, no later than 3 days after the appearance of the vesicles.

Possible complementary treatments

  • In addition, to relieve pain, the patient can also take analgesics (paracetamol type). If the pain is difficult to bear, opiates can be given.
  • In addition, the use of a local antiseptic is recommended to prevent the skin lesions from becoming over-infected. Finally, exposure to the sun is strongly discouraged until complete healing.
  • Sedative antihistamines are indicated because there is pruritus (itching).
  • We advise you to keep your nails clean and cut short: this reduces the risk of bacterial superinfection.
  • We also recommend that you take daily showers and/or baths in warm water with a dermatological bar or soap, excluding any antiseptic washing product.

In all cases, consult your dermatologist or your doctor to receive appropriate treatment.

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