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Shingles: Causes & Treatment

If you've ever had the unfortunate opportunity to experience the chicken pox as a child, you know that it was not a pleasant one. But if you have been exposed to the virus, that means that you could be affected by the viral infection shingles at any time.

What is shingles?

Shingles is an infection that creates a painful rash on the outer layer of the skin, all over the body, similar to that of chicken pox, but much more dangerous. This rash can appear anywhere on the body, but most commonly appears on the back.

What causes shingles?

In order to experience a breakout of shingles, you have to have been exposed to chicken pox first. That is because shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, which is called the varicella-zoster virus. After initially being exposed to the chicken pox virus, the virus then stays inactive within your body.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Shingles is a painful infection and can have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Burning or tingling of the skin
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Painful red rash
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Because of the symptoms and location of the pain, sometimes shingles can be mistaken as a problem with the heart, lungs or kidneys. What makes shingles even more dangerous is that it is possible to experience them without having a rash or breakout.

Is shingles contagious?

Shingles is contagious during a breakout rash and anyone that isn’t immune to chicken pox is at risk of catching the virus. This occurs when someone has direct contact with the rash and they will develop chicken pox, not shingles.

Is shingles a deadly virus?

Although the shingles virus is not dangerous to those that have an outbreak, those who have never experienced chicken pox are at risk of high levels of danger. Those that have not been exposed to chicken pox and either have: a week immune system, are newborns or pregnant, should all avoid those with shingles blisters because they are at a higher danger level than other groups of people.

Who is at a higher risk of shingles?

There are a few factors that make some people at a higher risk of developing shingles; these factors include:

  • Being over 50: Shingles is most common in those over the age of 50. The risk of developing shingles increases with age.
  • Diseases: If you have diseases that weaken the immune system (such as HIV/AIDS or cancer)
  • Medications: taking certain medications can increase your risk of developing shingles.

Treatments Available

There is no cure for shingles, but there are treatment options available that will help heal the rashes or blisters and lower your risk of complications. There are also pain relievers in forms of creams and patches that your doctor can prescrible to help with the discomfort. 

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