Understanding Shingles: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

June 12, 2024

Discover the stages, symptoms, and treatment options for shingles. Learn how to recognize early signs, get treatment, and prevent complications. Get informed!

Shingles is a common condition that typically impacts adults aged 50 and over. If you’ve had chickenpox, you can develop shingles. According to Dr. Tamara Hill of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Granbury, Texas, “Shingles is a common and contagious viral infection. If you notice warning signs of shingles, you should notify your dermatologist right away. Not only can they offer a clear diagnosis, but they can help you manage symptoms and avoid spreading this condition to others.” In this blog, Dr. Hill breaks down exactly what shingles is, the common symptoms, potential complications, and treatment options.

Understanding Shingles

When people get chicken pox, they develop a skin rash, itching, painful blisters, and other symptoms caused by an infection of the varicella-zoster virus. Once the virus has been processed and the skin symptoms clear up, it moves into the nerve structures and becomes dormant. Over time, it can evolve to become the herpes zoster virus and return to the skin’s surface as shingles. Shingles develops over three stages:

  • Prior to skin symptoms – There will be nerve-related symptoms, including itching, burning, tingling, and general discomfort, for one to two days in the area where skin symptoms will later develop.
  • Rash Development – The early-stage shingles rash develops on the skin. It may burn, itch, or cause pain. Most people notice symptoms localized on one side of the body, usually on the torso. Following the original shingles rash development, blisters may appear and give the appearance that the rash is spreading.
  • Rash clearance – Over the course of three to four weeks, rashes will begin to clear. Any blisters will burst and scab over. Pain, itching, and discomfort should diminish over time as well. If discomfort doesn’t diminish, you may be experiencing a commonly related condition known as postherpetic neuralgia.

Symptoms of Shingles

Everyone’s shingles experience will be unique, but in most cases, symptoms of shingles on the skin will be localized. That means they only impact one section of the body. Shingles symptoms often form on one side of the body. Some of the common symptoms of shingles that appear on the skin include:

  • Pain
  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Itching
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Rash that develops after pain or burning sensation
  • Blisters that may burst and scab over

In addition to these common skin health signs, some people who develop shingles may also experience exhaustion, fever, headache or body aches, and light sensitivity. These symptoms may be indicative of an infection, and it’s important to consult with your dermatologist or physician if you notice these symptoms. If a shingles rash develops on your face with or without these more serious symptoms, it’s important to contact a medical provider right away.


Complications of Shingles

There are many potential complications or additional health concerns that may develop out of shingles. According to Dr. Hill, “The most common complication related to herpes zoster infection is postherpetic neuralgia or PHN. This condition causes lingering pain, tingling, or burning in the area where the rash appeared on the skin. Some patients experience this sensation constantly. For others, PHN symptoms are intermittent. The symptoms of PHN can last for days, weeks, months, years, or a lifetime. Some people experience such severe pain that it is debilitating. Receiving a diagnosis and treatment within the first few days of noticing shingles symptoms is the best way to reduce the risk of developing PHN.” In addition to PHN, other complications related to shingles include hearing loss, blindness related to shingles rash on the face, pneumonia, and swelling of the brain.

Treatment and Prevention

When it comes to the treatment of shingles, Dr. Hill says, “Many patients don’t seek professional diagnosis and treatment of shingles because they believe the symptoms will clear on their own. While this is often true, failure to treat shingles can lead to increased symptom severity, greater risk for complications, and longer healing times. Additionally, without shingles medication and guidance from a dermatologist or other medical professional, you may be more likely to spread shingles to others.”

Treatment for shingles usually includes an oral antiviral medication. Most dermatologists will prescribe acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. These antivirals strike at the heart of the infection, helping the body fight off the herpes zoster virus and heal more quickly. Additionally, over-the-counter pain relievers are recommended to manage discomfort. For those who experience severe pain or inflammation, an oral corticosteroid, like prednisone, may be prescribed. These oral corticosteroids have proven effective in reducing pain and inflammation. However, corticosteroids can also suppress the immune system, meaning it could take longer to heal. For this reason, your dermatologist will be cautious with the dosage of corticosteroids and the amount of time they’re taken.

In addition to these treatment options, Dr. Hill recommends, “It’s important to do your utmost to seek treatment at the first signs of shingles. However, it’s even better to prevent this condition before it ever begins. Adults over the age of 50 should receive the shingles vaccine. It’s administered in two doses spaced between two and six months apart as directed by a medical professional. This vaccine is also recommended for adults who have a weakened immune system.

Manage Shingles Symptoms with Your Dermatologist

It’s important to contact a dermatologist if you notice shingles symptoms. They can provide a diagnosis and recommend a care plan to manage shingles. While there are over-the-counter products available to address the side effects of this condition, it can be extremely beneficial to partner with a dermatologist who can provide personalized care recommendations and prescription medications when necessary. In addition to offering treatment to manage shingles symptoms, dermatologists can also conduct a risk assessment to help you understand your risk for developing this condition. If you’re interested in finding out more, don’t hesitate to reach out to schedule a consultation visit with the knowledgeable team at U.S. Dermatology Partners. Getting started is as simple as filling out our online scheduling request form. Once we receive your contact information, we’ll be in touch to finalize the details of your upcoming appointment.

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