A very painful condition, shingles may appear as a rash of blisters that most often appears on either side of your torso. It is a viral infection that can cause symptoms anywhere on your body.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one out of every three people in the U.S. will develop shingles at some time during their lives. Thankfully, this painful infection is not life-threatening. If you have an outbreak of shingles, there are medications available and things that you can do to recover more quickly.
What is Shingles?
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have had chickenpox, the virus can remain in your body, lying dormant near the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. The virus can become active years after you have had chickenpox and cause an outbreak of shingles.
Shingles appears as a line of very painful blisters. It most often shows up on either side of the torso, but it may appear anywhere. You can reduce your risk of developing shingles by getting a vaccine. If you do have an outbreak, it is possible to shorten it by treating it early.
Signs and Symptoms
A shingles outbreak normally will only affect a small part of your body. It may cause the following symptoms:
- Red rash
- Burning, pain, numbness, or tingling
- Blisters filled with fluid that burst and crust
Along with these symptoms, you may also experience the following symptoms:
- Light sensitivity
The very first sign that you might have shingles is intense pain. Some people experience the pain without developing the rash and may confuse it with other medical conditions.
Common Treatment Options
Shingles can’t be cured, but there are treatments available to help to alleviate the pain and other symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to speed your healing and recovery from a shingles outbreak such as valacyclovir or acyclovir. You may also be prescribed an anesthetic such as lidocaine in a spray, gel patch, or topical cream. This helps to block the pain signal that is sent from the outbreak area. Your doctor may also prescribe NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help to reduce any fever or inflammation. You may be prescribed gabapentin, an anticonvulsant drug that also helps to treat the pain that is caused by shingles. Your doctor may also prescribe a skin cream that contains capsaicin, which is an analgesic that helps to relieve pain.
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Shingles can be worsened when your immune system is weak. Making some changes to your diet can help to boost your immune system. Your diet should be filled with foods that contain lysine as well as vitamins C, B-12, A, and E. Your diet should include such foods as spinach, leafy green vegetables, eggs, red meat, yellow and orange vegetables, wild-caught fish, chicken, legumes, and whole grains.
There are also some foods that you should avoid when you have shingles. These include juices and foods that are loaded with sugar, saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, and foods that contain high concentrations of arginine, including nuts, chocolate, and gelatin.
There are some other natural treatments that can help to shorten your symptoms. Cleansing the blisters every day can help to prevent the infection from spreading. You should avoid using hot water because it increases blood flow. Take cool baths or showers. Taking a cool bath with one to two cups of colloidal oatmeal can also soothe shingles. Soak for about 20 minutes. After your bath, dry off completely and launder your towel so that the virus does not spread to other people.
Moist, cool compresses can also help to ease the pain and itchiness of shingles. Don’t use ice, however. Ice can make the pain feel worse. Instead, moisten a cloth in cool water and wring it out. Apply it to the affected area a few times a day.
Applying a paste a few times a day that is made from cornstarch or baking soda can help to relieve the symptoms of shingles. To get the right consistency, add one-part water to two parts of either substance. Mix it together and apply to the shingles patch. After letting the paste remain for 15 minutes, rinse it off and dry your skin.
Shingles can happen to anyone who has ever had chickenpox. If you develop shingles, it can be very painful, and the symptoms can last from two to four weeks. Fortunately, many people only have an outbreak of shingles once in their lives. If you think that you might have shingles, it is important for you to see your doctor and to get it treated early. This may help to shorten your symptoms and recover faster.