Image Source: Google Image
Skin is a beautiful part of your body. It is almost like the perfect attire that you’d like to flaunt. Who wouldn’t dream of a flawless complexion and smooth skin? However sometimes due to external factors from the environment go on to harming the skin making it spotty, pigmented and sometimes ugly due to various forms of infections.
A similar skin infection that could really bother you with its appearance is called as Shingles. A viral infection of the skin, as shingles is known in medical terms; shingles are not just painful rashes but with their appearance can really bother you.
What do we mean by Shingles
Shingles is a viral infection that is caused by the virus varicella-zoster. This virus is also responsible for causing chicken pox. Although not a very painful disease, shingles can become problematic when left on the body untreated. It is likely to spread to other parts of the body without timely medical attention.
How is Shingles caused?
Like we said earlier the virus varicella zoster is the prime cause of shingles. So, is this a new attack of the virus and why did it occur? Well, to answer this question, let us tell you more about this disease. Shingles is not due to fresh viral attack. All of us at some point or the other do catch the chicken pox infection.
The virus post the chicken pox recovery lies dormant in the human body. Years later it can resurface and cause shingles. The virus lives in a dormant state in the brain and the spinal cord. The exact reason as to what activates the dormant virus is still a point of research. But medical practitioners attribute the cause to lower levels of immunity as one grows older. People with compromised immunity levels such as aged, pregnant women and children are always at a risk of acquiring this disease.
The good news about this disease is that it not a life threatening disease, but the downside is that it can be very painful for the patient to manage.
Can Shingles spread from one person to another?
Like many other skin infections that can spread through contact, shingles can also spread the virus varicella-zoster to those who are not immunized against it. However, when someone who has never had chicken pox comes in contact with the fluid inside the shingles blister, they go on and develop chicken pox and not shingles.
Similarly, those who have had earlier episode of chicken pox in life are not likely to contract the infection from another infected person. Normally to spread the infection, the person should come in contact with the open sores of the shingles rash on the infected person’s body. For hygiene purpose the clothes of the infected must be washed separately.
The infected should certainly maintain a distance from: persons with a weak immune system, pregnant women and little babies as they are most susceptible to acquiring the infection.
Shingles unlike other contagious diseases cannot spread through coughing and sneezing. Once the shingles blister dries up it is not considered as contagious, hence only the fluid is considered as a carrier of the infection.
Risk factors associated with the disease:
Image Source: Google Image
Shingles can occur in any person who has ever had an instance of chickenpox in life. Most of the people have chickenpox at least once in their lifetime making them prone to the risk of acquiring the shingles disease. Following are the group of people who stand at risk of getting shingles at any point of their life.
Persons above the age of 50 years always stand a risk of getting infected with shingles. This risk increases as one ages and is very commonly seen in people who are 80 years or older.
Weakened immune system: People with compromised immune system i.e. those suffering from serious medical conditions such as cancer or HIV are always at a risk of acquiring the shingles infection.
People undergoing cancer treatments: Cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy weaken a person’s immune system. This in turn lowers the body’s resistance capacity to fight various diseases. Infections making them susceptible to infections like shingles.
Medications & drugs: There are a few steroids that are prescribed during a few procedures to reduce body’s immunity for a particular period. Drugs like prednisone are such examples. When such medications are being consumed, the individual’s natural resistance is hampered making him fall under the risk of acquiring shingles.
Is shingles life threatening?
Shingles may sound like a serious disease, but in reality it is an infection that can very well be treated. Of course the symptoms can get rather troublesome but overall it is not a serious disease if attended to on time. However, in some cases when one tends to ignore the symptoms of the infection, it may go on to cause other related problems and complications, some of them being:
Post herpetic neuralgia:
When someone suffers from shingles for a rather long time, body gets used to the pain. In such a case even once the shingles blisters clear off the nerves continue to send pain signals to the brain due to the damage caused by the infection. Post herpetic neuralgia could last anywhere from six months to about a year and needs to be constantly treated through various painkillers.
Loss of eyesight:
Ophthalmic shingles or shingles that occurs around the eyes can eventually lead to partial of complete blindness damaging the nerves around the eyes. Other problems involving the eyes could be: ulcers and scarring of the eye surface; glaucoma wherein there is immense pressure built up in the eye which could eventually cause the nerves of the eyes to burst, inflammation of the eyes and optic nerves. Any symptoms of shingles seen around the eyes should be immediately shown to a medical practitioner.
Shingles can often affect the nerves going to the brain causing inflammation. This may in turn lead to serious neurological complications such as facial paralysis, hearing or balancing issues. Ramsay Hunt syndrome is one such complication which is known to affect 5 in a lac people every year. With an early diagnosis and treatment, the condition can be treated using various steroids. But when the treatment is delayed it reduces the chances of recovery considerably.
Shingles, when left untreated, could result in secondary skin infections that can occur anywhere on the body. Bacterial infections, white patches or pneumonia could also be a result of untreated shingles.
Can you prevent Shingles?
Anyone can stand a risk of acquiring shingles and there is very little that can be done to prevent the same from occurring. However, certain vaccines and medications are known to prevent this disease. Consult to the doctor of infectious diseases, or infectious disease physician before taking any cream or medication. The only vaccine that is available as on date that helps in preventing shingles is called as zostavax.
The other vaccine called Varivax is used to prevent chicken pox. Although by getting vaccinated one can’t completely rule out the chances of acquiring the infection. But the symptoms and intensity can definitely reduce to a large extent. Adults above 60years of age must receive this vaccination to prevent getting affected by the shingles disease.
This vaccine is easily available on a doctor’s recommendation. Hence it is advised to talk to your healthcare practitioner about the same. To alleviate the symptoms of pain, cool packs using a gentle cloth can really help. To prevent spreading the shingles infection to others care must be taken to keep the shingles infection covered. As much as possible so that the infected fluid does not carry the infection to others.
Shingles in pregnant women can cause various complications in the unborn baby depending on the time of the infection and the intensity with which it strikes. Hence pregnant women who have not been vaccinated for chickenpox must speak to the healthcare giver about the preventive measures and vaccines.
Basic levels of hygiene must be maintained to prevent shingles from spreading to others. Washing hands after applying medication, drying the skin well after a bath are basic ways in which the shingles infection can be controlled and prevented.
Shingles is mainly treated using antiviral medicines that are found extremely useful in dealing with the painful symptoms caused by the disease. Some natural ways are also found extremely helpful in managing shingles symptoms, such as:
Cool water soaks are found very useful in managing the pain caused by the shingles blisters. Soaking in this water for a few minutes or more can provide a lot of relief to the skin. But make sure to dry the skin thoroughly after the bath. As the blisters left wet can cause further skin infections.
Soothing lotions such as calamine can really help in alleviating the symptoms of shingles. One must refrain from using any cosmetic or chemical laden creams on the affected area. It must only stick to medicated creams or calamine.
Creams containing capsaicin (pepper extract) are found particularly useful in treating symptoms of shingles. This is because pepper is considered as a natural pain killer that helps in effectively managing the pain.