The best thing that can be said about shingles is that the disease normally affects just a small strip of one side of your body. Many of its sufferers complain of pain that’s both intense and unrelenting.
Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus. The skin rash and blisters that mark its presence often appear in a stripe. The initial outbreak causes chickenpox. However, the virus lurks in the body and can cause shingles years later.
According to shingles.com, the classic symptoms of shingles are fever, headache, nausea, and chills. Signs of the illness vary according to which of its two stages you’re experiencing, but most patients also complain of significant itching.
The prodomal stage begins around two to five days prior to the appearance of a skin rash. During this phase, you’re likely to experience the standard symptoms. Some patients also undergo numbness on one side of their face or body. Tingling, burning, or a kind of shooting pain might affect that side, with discomfort that can be either intermittent or constant. Itching on one side of the body or the face is also common.
Once shingles has progressed to the eruptive stage, you’ll see redness and swelling at the pain site. Blisters filled with a clear fluid will be present, with new ones erupting for as long as five days. They might form a continual band called a dermatome or appear in patches in a scattered pattern. At this point, they resemble chicken pox.
Individuals in the second stage of an outbreak can find the blisters incredibly painful. Others report an itchy, mildly irritating sensation. Shingles blisters fill with pus within 14 days, then form a scab.
Once you start to see scabs, the blisters no longer contain any virus. The rash usually disappears between three and five weeks after onset. While you shouldn’t have scars, you might note some skin discoloration in the affected area.
Shingles nearly always clusters on just one side of the body. The typical areas affected include one side of the torso, the waistline, one side of the face, and the derriere. The virus is also commonly found on an arm or a leg.
For most healthy people, shingles is not considered dangerous. However, it’s possible to develop complications. One of the most common is severe pain once the blisters have disappeared. This condition can last for months or years after the outbreak and is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
The Mayo Clinic reports that for many, pain is the first symptom of a shingles episode. It’s important to contact your doctor promptly if you suspect your symptoms point to the virus. Three situations warrant quick medical attention:
- You note pain and a rash near your eyes.
- Either you or a family member has a weakened immune system due to illness or medication.
- The rash is painful and widespread.
Medical intervention for shingles involves prescription medications such as FAMVIR (famiciclovir) to reduce the symptoms and help blisters heal more quickly. In order for the drug to work properly, however, you must start it within 72 hours after the rash appears.