Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shingles : Prompt Treatment Avoids Complications

Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus, the same one that causes chickenpox.

After chickenpox subsides, the virus becomes inactive (dormant), until an unknown factor triggers its reemergence as shingles-- a painful, blistering rash.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine says you're more likely to develop shingles if you're 60 or older, had chickenpox before you were 1 year old, and have a condition that's caused a weakened immune system.

The agency says these symptoms are typical of shingles:

  • Pain in the abdomen.
  • Difficulty moving facial muscles.
  • Droopy eyelids.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Lesions near the genitals.
  • Headache.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Joint pain.
  • Inability to fully move the eyes.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Taste and vision problems.

There is no cure for shingles, but early treatment may shorten the length of illness and prevent complications.

As soon as you are diagnosed with shingles, your doctor probably will start treatment with antiviral medicines.

Antiviral agents like acyclovir(Avorax, Zovirax), famciclovir, or valacyclovir should be started within 72 hours after the onset of rash; they are unlikely to be helpful after lesions have crusted. Early treatment lower chance of having later problems, such as postherpetic neuralgia which can be serious and resistant to treatment.

Other treatment options include :

  • Oral pain medicines, such as paracetamol (Panadol, Uphamol) or ibuprofen (Brufen, ), to help reduce pain during an attack of shingles.
  • Topical anesthetics, such as lignocaine gel (Axcel), to numb the area.
  • Topical capsaicin cream (Menzza NP) may provide some relief from pain.
Complications of Shingles

Postherpetic Neuralgia, the most common complication of shingles. Postherpetic neuralgia occurs when damaged nerve fibers send confused and exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain causing pain that lasts for months or years.

Other complications include:

Vision loss
Shingles in or around an eye (ophthalmic shingles) can cause painful eye infections that may result in vision loss.

Neurological problems
Depending upon which nerves are affected, shingles can cause:

  • Encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain
  • Hearing or balance problems
  • Facial paralysis
Skin infections
If shingles blisters aren't properly treated, bacterial skin infections may develop.


  1. Here's a site with good, comprehensive information about shingles, including causes, symptoms, treatment and those for whom the vaccine works

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