Warning Signs It May Be Shingles (And What You Can Do About It)

Some diseases seem to share symptoms with a host of others which makes it impossible to distinguish one from another. Even worse, it becomes difficult to spot the progression of more malignant illnesses. Such can be the case with shingles, since this virus can share similarities in appearance with rashes or pain caused by other disorders. Since shingles can lead to very serious complications such as vision loss, neurological problems, or bacterial infections, it is important to learn the warning signs of shingles and how it can be treated.

You’ve had chickenpox before
A qualifying factor for developing shingles is that you’ve had the chickenpox, or varicella zoster virus before. After you get over it, the virus stays inside your body. It goes into a sleep-like state. Years later, says WebMD, it can “wake up” and cause shingles.

While all people who have had chickenpox can develop shingles, people with a compromised immune system due to cancer treatments, organ transplant medication, HIV, or excessive stress have a higher chance of developing the disease.

Pain, numbness, or burning on one side
An important sign that you might have shingles is if you are experiencing sharp or stabbing pain, burning, numbness, hypersensitivity, or tingling on one small section of your body on one side. According to the Mayo Clinic, most commonly, the shingles rash develops as a stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of your torso.

Pain is usually the first sign of shingles, and it can sometimes be mistaken for a symptom of problems affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys depending on where the sensation develops.

A rash develops on your face, chest, back, or waist
The shingles rash is usually limited to the face, chest, back, or waist, and the signs and symptoms of shingles usually affect only a small section of one side of your body. A few days later after feeling the pain, you may see a rash in the spot where you felt the pain. It can, in rare cases, form on your face or all over your body instead of one side or spot.

The rash may quickly change in appearance
If it’s a shingles rash, at first, the rash looks like little bumps. Then in two to three days, you may see fluid-filled blisters which grow bigger and pop open. A hard crust forms on top of them and after a few days, the scabs fall off. After two to four weeks, the rash should fade but the skin underneath the rash might change color and always stay that way.

Shingles might affect your eye
If the shingles rash forms near your eye and the virus enters your eye, it can lead to vision loss. Signs that you have it in your eye include pain, redness, swelling, and sensitivity to light.

You also feel like you’re coming down with the flu
While people usually experience a rash or pain with shingles, sometimes they also or only experience flu-like symptoms. These can include fever, chills, fatigue, nausea, stomachache, diarrhea, sensitivity to light and headache.

How to treat shingles
Once your doctor diagnoses shingles, they can prescribe antiviral medication such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or valacyclovir (Valtrex) that will shorten the length of the illness. Medication also reduces the chance of complications, so seeking early intervention is a good idea. Painkillers can often lessen the discomfort of shingles if it is diagnosed at a more advanced stage, and wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths can also be helpful in reducing itching.

People aged 60 years and older who don’t seek treatment for shingles are more likely to develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which causes severe pain even after the shingles rash has cleared. However, people at any age should seek medical care to avoid the slight possibility of developing complications from shingles.  

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