The Painful Rash - Shingles Pain
Most adults can still recall the mental and physical pain of childhood chickenpox. We remember the baking soda baths, the calamine lotion, the intense urge to itch our scabs until they bled, the feverishness, the fatigue, the embarrassment of being covered in those hideous red dots and the solitude of being locked away until healed. Later in life, the virus can re-emerge again as shingles, an even more painful version of the herpes virus. It's said there is a 50% chance of developing shingles pain for people who've not been vaccinated for chickenpox as kids.
The first sign of a chickenpox virus reactivation is a burning sensation on the nerve paths where the virus is traveling. Since the nerve paths run in half-circles around the body, the burning, itching, tingling shingles pain occurs on one side of the face, chest or abdomen only. Within the first 24 hours, patients will notice a fever and enlarged lymph nodes. Within 48-72 hours, the painful rash appears like small blisters on top of swollen, red skin. Unlike chickenpox, which spreads all over the body from finger tips to toes, shingles are confined to smaller areas on the face, abdomen and chest. After three to five days, the painful rash has reached its peak and is now beginning to burst, turn into sores and slowly scab over. After two to three weeks, the scabs fall off, leaving the skin to heal. For many people, the rash region is extremely painful for weeks or months after the scabs have gone. Something as simple as having a shirt touch the skin can send waves of nerve pain radiating around the body.
The most common shingles pain complication is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which describes the chronic pain persistent long after the skin lesions have healed. "The incidence of postherpetic neuralgia rises dramatically in people over 50," says Joseph Jorizzo MD of Wake Forest University, who adds that more than 50% of people 50+ develop PHN. "It's probably due to some sort of scar produced by the inflammation caused by all the viral particles coming down the sensory nerve." He says the incidence and duration of PHN can be significantly decreased with the use of oral antiviral agents like acyclovir in high doses. Studies show that it's important to begin antiviral therapy within 48-72 hours of the onset of symptoms.
The US Food and Drug administration just approved a new drug aimed at treating shingles pain. The Quentza patch delivers a synthetic form of the hot substance found in chili peppers. Strangely enough, clinical studies showed that a one-hour application of up to four patches reduced PHN pain for up to 12 weeks. Since this medication is non-narcotic, it is unlikely to cause drowsiness or interact with other drugs, as many other shingles medications might. The most common side effects were redness at the application site, increased blood pressure and some itching.
Related topics about shingles pain
The frightening thing about shingles herpes, genital herpes and oral herpes is that once you've got it, you're stuck with it. While there are treatments and pain medicine options aimed at soothing an acute outbreak, the virus still lies dormant in the cells for years and years. Currently, researchers are learning more about how killer T-cells get inadvertently "turned off" by this family of viruses -- not to mention HIV, another immune-attacking virus.
Shingles is an infection of the skin that is caused by the varicella zoster virus. People that have shingles develop the condition in childhood in the form of chicken pox, but there are also a few adults that contract the shingles symptoms as well. The virus can remain dormant in the bloodstream for years before it becomes noticeable, so you'll need to make sure that you are continuously aware of the symptoms if you or your child have had chicken pox in the past.
Sometimes people are confused when they see the telltale signs of a shingles rash. "Looks like I have a spider bite," some people say initially. Then, later, they surmise, "Perhaps it's just hives -- an allergic reaction to something.
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