Shingles is caused by the same virus (herpes zoster) that causes chickenpox. Most people that contract chickenpox as children fully recover, but the herpes zoster virus never leaves your system. Some people will experience another attack of the herpes zoster virus later in life, but in the form of shingles.
What causes it?
There is no specific cause of a shingles outbreak, but there are various factors that can make an outbreak more likely, namely
- physical and emotional
- a weakened immune system
- of the skin
- recent organ transplant
What are the symptoms?
Most people will only experience an outbreak two to three times during their lifetime. An outbreak is usually preceded by a tingling or burning sensation on the skin around the area where the rash will appear. A rash will normally only affect one side off the body and will be concentrated in areas where there are a large number of nerve endings.
Dr Hilary Jones talks about shingles
Other symptoms you may experience before the signature shingles rash starts is nerve pain, fever, headaches and enlarged lymph nodes. The shingles rash usually starts a few days after these symptoms appear and results in a band or patch of red spots on the face or back. The rash starts off as blister-like red bumps that burst and collapse, and then dry to form crusts. Some people with shingles experience continued nerve pain even after an outbreak has disappeared. This is known as post-herpetic neuralgia, but mostly affects patients that are older than 50.
An outbreak can generally last between three to four weeks as the rash takes time to heal. Nerve pain can take another one to three months to go away.
Is there any way an outbreak can be prevented?
One of the best ways to prevent an outbreak is to avoid getting chickenpox to start off with, but this isn't always possible. It's very difficult to predict who will develop shingles later in life, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle should keep your immune system resilient, which can potentially make an outbreak less likely. There are also vaccinations against shingles, however vaccinations are only recommended to those over 60. There are also various antiviral medications that can help make an outbreak less severe if it does occur and can help cut down recovery time if an outbreak has already started.