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Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia

How is Shingles diagnosed?

Shingles is diagnosed based on the appearance of the rash and blisters as well as a history of pain on one side of your body.

Can Shingles be cured?

Shingles cannot be cured, but prompt treatment will help speed healing and recovery. Most people who get shingles will have a single episode and it will not reoccur.

What causes Shingles?

The same virus that causes the chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus, causes shingles. Once you’ve contracted chickenpox, this virus remains in your body. While the virus normally remains dormant in your nerve roots, in some people the virus will become active again, travel up the root to the skin, and cause shingles. Stress, disease, aging, and some medications will awaken the virus. Although you cannot catch shingles from someone who has it, if you have not had chicken pox or the vaccine, you may contract chicken pox after exposure to someone with shingles. The contagion lies in the rash and the blisters.

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What are the risk factors for Shingles?

Only those that have had the chickenpox, can get shingles. Other factors that increase the risk of developing shingles include:

Age: Individuals fifty and over have a higher risk of contracting shingles.

Compromised Immune Systems: Diseases that weaken your immune system increase the risk of developing shingles.

Cancer Treatments: Radiation or chemotherapy may trigger shingles.

Medications: Some medications or the prolonged use of steroids, such as prednisone, may increase your risk of shingles.

Because chickenpox can be dangerous for some groups of people, anyone with shingles should avoid physical contact with: newborns, pregnant woman, and those with weakened immune systems. To prevent contagion, keep the rash covered. Avoid scratching. Wash your hands often.

Can Shingles be prevented?

Two vaccines may help prevent shingles — the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine, and the shingles (vaticella-zoster) vaccine. The first vaccine has become a routine childhood immunization. The latter is approved for adults age 50 and older. Although the shingles vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get shingles, it can reduce the severity of the disease.

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Complications from Shingles

Sometimes a case of shingles will lead to nerve fiber damage, known as Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN). This damage may cause chronic pain that may persist for months or years. PHN rarely occurs in those under 40. As people get older they are more likely to develop it.

PHN is characterized by the following:

Sensitivity to light touch
Itching and numbness
Weakness or paralysis

Treatment for PHN is similar to the treatment for shingles.

How do I get relief from Shingles?

Medicines: Antiviral medications and pain relief medications.

Injections: Sympathetic nerve blocks, Epidurals

Conservative: Cool baths or compresses on the blisters may help relieve itching and pain.

If you think you have Shingles, call a doctor IMMEDIATELY! The sooner you get help, the better chance you have at preventing side effects.

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