Shingles is a type of disease that affects a person’s nerves and skin. In some cases, the pain can become so unbearable to the point that clothes become difficult to wear. Knowing the causes of a shingles outbreak is important when it comes to preventing this disease.
What are shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus. If the virus sounds familiar, it is because this virus is also responsible for chickenpox.
Once a person has recovered from chickenpox, the virus lays dormant in their body for years. In most cases, the virus is inactive, and doesn’t cause a shingles outbreak. However, there are some cases wherein the virus is reactivated and, instead of having chickenpox again, the person gets shingles. This means that the only people who can get shingles are those who have recovered from chickenpox.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
The symptoms of shingles can vary from case to case. Some experience only mild symptoms, while others exhibit severe symptoms that can last for months. Here are some of the possible symptoms:
- Burning, tickling, or itchy sensation on skin
- Skin that is sensitive to touch
- Fever, chills, or headache
- Severe pain that lasts for months
- Loss of vision when the outbreak occurs around the eyes
- Difficulty hearing
One complication that arises from less than 4 percent of shingles cases is known as post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN. Neuralgia refers to a type of pain that occurs when a nerve gets damage. In the case of PHN, it’s because of the shingles outbreak. This can cause very intense pain, and touching cloth or even the softest breeze can trigger this.
It can sometimes last for months or years, or be permanently (this is extremely rare). Sometimes, PHN is so debilitating that a person finds it almost impossible to complete daily activities and tasks.
What are the causes of a shingles outbreak?
While we do know that the herpes zoster virus causes shingles, we don’t know for sure what causes its reactivation in the body. However, researchers believe that the following might have something to do with it:
- As you grow older, your risk increases because your body has a harder time fighting infections.
- Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV, cancer, and cancer treatments.
- Stress is also believed to be one of the causes of a shingles outbreak.
Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. You need to have had a previous case of chickenpox before you can get shingles. However, people with shingles blisters can infect other people with chickenpox. So if you have shingles, it would be a good idea to keep your distance from people who have not yet recovered from or have not been vaccinated against chickenpox.
What are the risk factors of a shingles outbreak?
Here are some of the possible risk factors for shingles:
- Old age
- Recovering from chickenpox
- Undergoing cancer treatment
- Having a weak immune system
- Taking certain medications, such as steroids
What can you do about a shingles outbreak?
Preventing shingles can be difficult, especially if you have had chickenpox before. However, there is a vaccine that older adults can take to lower their chances of developing shingles. These vaccines are usually given for adults aged 50 and up. People who already have shingles won’t reap the benefits of the vaccine.
Here are some of the things that you can do to treat shingles:
- Be sure to get enough rest. This will help your body fight off the infection.
- Eating healthy foods is also important, as this can help strengthen your immune system.
- Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages, as they can slow down your recovery.
- You can also get prescription medication to manage symptoms and speed up recovery.
- Use a cloth dipped in cool water to help ease the pain of blisters.
- Avoid stress triggers as best you can. Stress can aggravate the symptoms of shingles.
- If you’re experiencing severe pain from shingles, ask your doctor about over-the-counter medication.
- Use calamine lotion to soothe the itching.
- As much as possible, avoid scratching your blisters.
- Wear cool and loose-fitting clothing so that you’re always comfortable.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.