What You Need to Know About Shingles

You might have heard of the name shingles when you came to the doctor to consult painful rashes, but this is a more serious form of infection that regular heat rash because it is caused by a varicella-zoster virus that is also part of the same type of virus responsible for chickenpox.

What is Shingles?
If you have had chickenpox in the past, the virus can lie dormant in our body and reappear as shingles years later. Some individuals who have had vaccines against shingles can still experience them, although the rashes will not be as painful as without the vaccine. If left untreated, shingles can cause complications and infections, but it is not necessarily a life-threatening disease. Shingles is not contagious, but the virus can be passed to other people especially if there are members of the family who have not yet developed a resistance against chickenpox. If you have had chickenpox before, this is also not a guarantee that you will not get shingles, because these are caused by different viruses although they belong in the same group.

What are the Symptoms?
Shingles exhibits the same symptoms as chickenpox, such as red rashes, pain or numbness all over the body, appearance of blisters with fluids or crusted blisters when they are broken, itching, fever, headache, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. There are some people, however, who experience the other symptoms without the any rashes appearing on the body. Sometimes, the rashes only appear on one side or one area of the body.

What are the Treatments?
If the rashes are very painful and if they appear on different parts of the body, you need to consult a doctor. People with weak immune systems due to other conditions and the elderly must also seek treatment. If the rashes also appear near the eyes, it must be treated by a doctor to prevent complications and infections that could potentially damage the eyesight. If the severe symptoms are left untreated, the person will likely lose his/her vision, experience postherpetic neuralgia or pain in the damaged nerve fibers, encephalitis, hearing problems, facial paralysis, balance problems, and skin infections. There is no cure for shingles, but the doctor might recommend medications for the pain and to avoid complications.

What are the Vaccines?
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent shingles or lessen the symptoms and course of the condition if you do get them; these are chickenpox and shingles vaccines. The former is called varicella vaccine which is available in Singapore as part of the routine vaccination of children, while the shingles vaccine or varicella-zoster vaccine is also given to children and the elderly aged 50 years and above who were not given the vaccine. For those who still get shingles even after being vaccinated, the condition should only last for a maximum of 6 weeks, but it is also possible to experience it more than once.