What causes Shingles?
Shingles (Herpes Zoster) is a nerve infection caused by the chicken pox virus. Shingles results from activation of a chicken pox virus that has remained in your body since you had chicken pox - perhaps many years ago. The virus activation is limited to a nerve root. That accounts for the pattern of the rash, which always stops at the body's midline. The nerve involvement explains the stinging, burning, or pain common in shingles. Some patients have discomfort before the rash appears.
The rash of Shingles begins as red patches that soon develop blisters. The blisters may remain small or can become large. They heal in 2 - 4 weeks. They may leave some scars.
Many patients mistakenly believe that "nervousness" causes Shingles. This is wrong; Shingles is a viral infection of a nerve and has nothing to do with being "nervous."
Is Shingles contagious?
You don't have to quarantine yourself. Until your rash has healed, however, you should keep away from persons who have never had chicken pox. Small children or infants can catch chicken pox from someone with Shingles. Persons whose resistance is lowered by illness or certain medications can also catch Shingles. Contact with healthy adults appears safe.
How is Shingles treated?
Most cases of Shingles are treated with an antiviral medicine. We will also try to make you comfortable while healing. If you have burning or discomfort, take aspirin or a similar painkiller.
If you have much pain, you can be given a prescription painkiller to take until the pain subsides. The pain is caused by neuritis - inflammation of a nerve. Cortisone taken by mouth shortens this neuritis and is often prescribed for it. The blistering rash usually clears up in few weeks. The discomfort may persist longer.
Don't open your blisters. You should compress the blisters or crusts for 10 minutes twice daily with a mixture of one-quarter cup white vinegar and two quarts of lukewarm water. Later, when the crusts and scabs are separating, your skin may become dry, tense, and cracked. If that happens, rub a small amount of petrolatum (plain Vaseline) 3 - 4 times a day to the area.