Effects of this painful skin condition can last for months

Shingles is an infection of the skin that is mostly seen in people over the age of 50. With shingles, a severe and often painful rash occurs and lasts about 5 days.

When a person contracts shingles they can expect to have an itch, tingling sensation or pain on the skin where the rash is visible. The rash usually is confined to one side or area of the body.

How is it caused? Shingles is caused by reactivation of the chickenpox virus. Many people experience chickenpox as a child but for some the virus may not have been completely cleared by the immune system. Therefore it remains dormant in the body and can reoccur later in life.

Signs of shingles that appear in the days before the rash is visible are:

  • fever or chills
  • digestive upset
  • difficulty urinating

While the rash itself should only be visible for about 5 days, the pain associated with the rash can last weeks or even months. This is called postterpetic neuralgia, and the pain is not usually severe but can come and go.

There is a possibility of shingles becoming worse. The rash can become infected if left untreated, an attack near the eye can cause scarring on the cornea affecting vision and, in rare cases, shingles on the face can lead to temporary hearing loss, facial paralysis and a reduced sense of taste. If any of these problems arise consult with your family doctor.

Treatment for shingles is very simple: the most important thing is to keep the skin clear while the rash is present. Your doctor may also prescribe a cleansing solution to be used on the affected area. They may also prescribe an antiviral drug to shorten the period of the rash.

How can you prevent the shingles? There is a vaccine available that can help prevent the risk of shingles it is recommended for people over the age of 60.

You can learn more about shingles and their treatment by visiting the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Additionally, for publications and support, visit the National Shingles Foundation website.