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Photo: Shingles on Neck

Shingles: Learn from someone who Experienced it!

By Mary M. Alward

Every year approximately one million people in Canada and the United States are afflicted with this virus, also known as herpes zoster. (I was unable to find statistics for other countries.) It is a painful viral infection. Anyone who has had chicken pox can develop this disorder. It can strike at any age, but is most common in the elderly.

Statistics tell us that one in ten people who’ve had chicken pox will suffer from shingles some time in their adult life. The reason for this is that the chicken pox virus lies dormant in the nerves along the spine for years. If the virus becomes activated, shingles are the result. The germ travels along the nervous system, causing damage. The result is shingles.

Shingles can vary from mild to extreme. They are extremely painful and appear as a red rash with blisters. A burning sensation is very sensitive to touch. Clothes and bed clothes can cause irritation. The blisters are usually confined to one area on the body. They last about a month and at times, as in my husband’s case, leave scars.

Shingles are often activated by a stressful situation. Unlike chicken pox they are not contagious. However, if you have never had chicken pox, you may break out with them after being in contact with a person who has shingles. (I never had chicken pox as a child. My family doctor suspects that either I had a very mild case and didn’t break out, or that I was a carrier, so exceptions do apply.)

Shingles never cause an outbreak of other herpes related viruses. It cannot cause cold sores or genital herpes. The dormant germ can only cause shingles.

Symptoms of shingles may vary. Before my outbreak I felt like someone was poking me with a pin. Itchiness or tingling is experienced by some people. Others have stabbing pain. Some experience no pain until the rash and blisters appear. Before the rash is noticeable, some people think they are having a gall bladder attack or even a heart attack. When the rash and blisters are at their peak, the pain can be excruciating.

Shingles usually travel in a band or belt pattern. This can appear on the abdomen, legs, arms, face or trunk of the body. As I stated earlier, usually only one area of the body is affected.

Once the blisters appear, they will fill with fluid, much like a water blister. After two weeks, they will dry out and a crust will form. Once crusted, the virus is no longer present.


OTC Products for Shingles

► Terrasil Shingles Skincare Ointment

► Curel Itch Defense Calming Lotion


If you feel that you may have shingles, it is best to see your doctor immediately. If the rash appears on the face, close to an eye, be sure to see an eye specialist. Shingles can cause blindness if the eye is infected and not cared for properly.

It is always best to see your doctor within twenty - four hours of the outbreak. He can give you medication that will ease pain, speed healing and stop the virus from spreading. These pills are usually taken three times a day for seven to ten days. Prednisone may be prescribed to lessen inflammation. Your doctor may also prescribe a pain blocker.

At one time there was no treatment for shingles. Sufferers experienced terrible pain and very rarely, death occurred. Medical research has come a long way in the treatment of shingles.

Though the blisters dry up and the rash disappears, the pain can continue for years. This is called post - herpetic neuralagian. (PHN) There is no treatment that can ease this pain. At times, anti - depressants are prescribed to help the patient cope.

Shingles is both physically and mentally traumatic to the patient. Be sure to get advice from a health care professional if you believe you, or someone you know, has this viral infection.

Oatmeal baths and a paste of baking soda and water also gives relief from itching caused by shingles. Health food stores recommend taking alfalfa for this disorder.

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Disclaimer: Articles not intended to Diagnose, Treat, Cure or Prevent Diseases.