Once you catch it, the chicken-pox virus never goes away. It continues to secretly lurk in the nerve cells of your body years after you suffer a childhood bout of chicken pox. You may not even remember having had chicken pox if yours was a mild case.
But when the herpes zoster virus, as it's called, reappears in adulthood, it's known as shingles. The name comes from the Latin and French words for belt or girdle because of the way the blisters wrap around the body's trunk.
No one knows why the virus suddenly decides to attack again. Some doctors think it occurs when the immune system is temporarily weakened. Shingles is more common in people over the age of 50, and older people are believed to have a lessened immune response. Injury or stress may be responsible. And anyone who's "immunosuppressed" -- such as people who have had an organ transplant or those who have cancer or AIDS -- is more prone to developing shingles.
Shingles often begins with pain or tingling. Then a red rash appears that's soon followed by blisters. The blisters may last anywhere from five days to possibly four weeks and then crust over and disappear. One important clue that you've got shingles: The blistery rash will appear on only one side of the body, most commonly on the trunk, buttocks, or face.
It's after the blisters have healed that the real agony of shingles may set in: It's called post-herpetic neuralgia by the medical community, and it consists of sharp, shooting, piercing pain in the area of the outbreak that can persist for years after the blisters heal. The older you are, the more likely you are to experience this lingering pain. Fortunately, only about 10 percent of all shingles patients will experience this aftereffect.
Getting prompt treatment may reduce the odds that you'll suffer ongoing pain after your bout with shingles. (And if it's any consolation, most people will only experience shingles once.)
If you suspect you have shingles, don't panic, but see a doctor as soon as possible, especially if you are older; ill with another condition; or have shingles on your face, (especially near your eyes, as it can lead to vision problems), leg, hand, or genital area.
If the diagnosis is indeed shingles, you might want to ask your doctor about acyclovir. This antiviral drug, if given early in the course of shingles, may help prevent pain down the road.
Although the experts emphasize the importance of getting prompt medical help, there are some additional home remedies you can do to help relieve pain and itching during the early stage of shingles, when the blisters are present, and to cope with any lingering discomfort once the blisters have cleared up. See the next section for home remedies you can use to ease the pain of shingles.
For more information about shingles and how to combat them, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- If your skin is dry and irritated, read Home Remedies for Dry Skin.
- If you are breaking out with acne, check out Home Remedies for Dermatitis.
- Can't stop scratching those irritated spots? Try Home Remedies for Itching.
- To learn about a more serious skin disease, go to Home Remedies for Psoriasis.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.