Herpes Zoster

What Is Herpes Zoster?

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a common viral infection of the nerves, which results in a painful rash or small blisters on an area of skin. It can appear anywhere on the body, but it typically appears on only one side of the face or body. Burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching are early signs of the infection. Even after the rash is gone, the pain can continue for months, even years.

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What Causes Herpes Zoster?

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the virus that causes chicken pox. After a person has had chicken pox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerves for many years. Herpes zoster is more common in people with weakened immune systems and in people over age 50.

Herpes Zoster

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Signs and Symptoms of Herpes Zoster

The following are the most common symptoms of shingles:

  • Skin sensitivity, tingling, itching, or pain in a localized area of the skin before the rash appears
  • Rash, which appears after one to five days and initially looks like small, red spots that turn into blisters
  • Blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up within 2 to 4 weeks
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Feeling ill
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Headache

The tingling, sharp pain, rash, and blisters can be in a small area, or they can extend in a line across a person’s back and chest.

Treatment for Herpes Zoster

There is no cure for shingles; it has to run its course. Treatment usually focuses on pain relief. Our dermatologists at Sarin Skin may recommend one or more of the following options:

  • Painkillers to relieve pain
  • Antiviral drugs to help reduce symptoms and minimize nerve damage
  • Bed rest, especially during the early phase of shingles and if fever is present
  • Topical (skin-based) agents
  • Cool compresses applied to affected skin areas
  • Antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir
  • Steroids
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Vaccine (Zostavax) to prevent shingles