One of the most typical viral infections that affect the skin in most people is the varicella-zoster virus. This is a virus that causes the appearance of chickenpox and the shingle rash. It often affects people who have contracted chickenpox at one point in their life. After the chickenpox completely heals, the virus becomes dominant in the nerves. Several factors can then trigger the virus to become active years later and cause shingle infection. This is why the condition is common among adults, while chickenpox is common in children. However, not all adults with a dominant varicella-zoster virus get shingle infections; the virus may fail to activate in others. The virus starts in roughly one in three adults with the dominant form.
Although one viral organism causes both shingles and chickenpox, they present differently. However, a common similarity between the two is that both infections present as an itchy rash on the skin. The main distinguishing feature between the two is that shingle infections have a painful rash, while the chickenpox rash is not painful. Additionally, chickenpox rashes appear throughout the body, while the rash for shingle infection is often localized. The rash is localized to one side of the body or face.
Shingle infection manifests as a painful rash on the skin. Symptoms last to about five weeks or less, depending on the level of management of the condition. You will notice the symptoms on one side of the body or face. The symptoms of the disease are usually a result of the virus affecting the nerves. This is why patients experience symptoms such as pain and tingling sensation. General symptoms include:
- Painful rash.
- Tingling sensation.
- Burning skin
Some patients may experience additional symptoms such as nausea, frequent headaches, and fever. You can also develop certain complications depending on the areas affected. The complications include vision loss, hearing problems, pneumonia, loss of taste, paralysis of the face, hepatitis, vertigo, and post-herpetic neuropathy (PHN).
PHN is the leading complication experienced by many patients with shingle infections. The complication occurs in roughly 20% of shingle infection patients and is more difficult to treat than shingles infection itself. It is characterized by damage of the nerves and a burning sensation long after the shingle infection is cured.
Certain risk factors make you more susceptible to post-herpetic neuropathy. They include:
- Advanced age.
- A weak immune system, as seen in patients with chronic diseases like HIV/AIDs.
- Severe shingle infections that affect a large part of the body.
- Pain in the early phases of the infection.
When should you treat shingles?
It would be best if you treated shingles as soon as you start noticing symptoms of the disease. Since the disease usually affects older adults, the National Institute on Aging recommends that everyone who notices the shingle rash should seek medical attention within three days of the appearance of the rash. Early diagnosis and treatment of the condition prevent you from experiencing full symptoms of the disease. They also limit the pain level of the rash and reduce the possibility of the appearance of scars. Early treatment also prevents the development of complications like hearing loss, pneumonia, and encephalitis, also known as the inflammation of the brain.
Treatment of the infection can be achieved using home remedies or conventional medications. The most common conventional medications used for shingle infections are antiviral agents. These agents are used either as shingles creams or oral medications. They include agents like acyclovir, which is the most common, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. You will get the maximum benefits of these medications when you start taking them within three days of the appearance of the shingle rash. However, you can still reap substantial benefits of the drugs when you take them within seven days of the appearance of the shingle rash.
You can use various shingles creams or ointments for the rash. However, you will still need an oral antiviral agent that can enter the systemic blood flow to kill the virus if you want to manage the condition more effectively. A popular, topical ointment that you can use for the painful rash of the infection is one that contains natural and soothing ingredients. The ointment relieves the itching and inflammation often associated with shingle infections. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties that help prevent secondary infection. Itching of the shingle rash often causes the blisters to burst open, which exposes them to dirt and bacteria. Your nails can then introduce these bacteria and dirt during the itching leading to a secondary skin infection. The antifungal and antibacterial properties make it the best cream for shingles when you want to prevent secondary infections.
You can also use a shingles cream with a numbing agent such as lidocaine. This can help relieve pain when it becomes unbearable. Alternatively, you can consult your dermatologist on the best cream for shingles available in the market.
An essential home remedy to adopt when suffering from shingle infection is good hygiene. This is especially true when you have oozing blisters. Good hygiene prevents you from acquiring a secondary infection. It also prevents you from spreading the varicella-zoster virus to people free of the virus. When you spread the virus, it presents as chickenpox in people who have never been infected with the condition.
To observe good hygiene, frequently clean the blisters, dry them gently, and clean the towel you use to dry them. Whenever possible, wash the towel in hot water or in high heat in the laundry to sterilize it. Avoid sharing towels when infected with the condition because it spreads the virus to others.
Other home remedies you can use to relieve symptoms of the infection include:
- Create a paste using cornstarch and baking soda. Apply the paste to affected areas; it helps relieve itching.
- Take advantage of cold compresses to soothe the itching and burning.
- Take a cold bath using colloidal oatmeal to soothe the pain and itching. Avoid taking a bath with hot water because it increases blood flow to the affected areas, increasing the shingle blisters.
- Adopt a healthy diet composed of leafy vegetables, vitamins, and minerals to help build your immune system. A weak immune system prolongs the healing duration of the condition. It also promotes the spread of the infection to unaffected areas.