The chicken-pox virus never goes away. It continues to lurk in the nerve cells of your body years and years after you first suffer from this common childhood disease. You may not even remember having had chicken pox if yours was a mild case. But when the herpes zoster virus, as it’s called, reappears in adults, it’s known as shingles. The name comes from the Latin and French words for belt or girdle, because of the girdle like outbreak of blisters on the trunk.
No one knows why the virus suddenly decides to attack. Some doctors think it occurs when the immune system is temporarily weakened. Shingles is more common in people over the age of 50, and older people are believed to have lessened immune response. Injury or stress may be responsible. And anyone who’s “immunosuppressed” – such as people who have had an organ transplant or those who have cancer or AIDS – is more prone to developing shingles.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality survey found that Americans make 2.1 million doctor visits a year because of shingles or its complications. The average cost for treating shingles is $525 per person or $566 million each year (in 2005 dollars), including prescription medicines. People age 65 and older are seven times more likely to get shingles than the non-elderly – (1.5 percent compared with 0.2 percent, respectively).
Shingles often begins with pain or tingling. Then a red rash appears that’s soon followed by blisters. The blisters may last anywhere from five days to possibly four weeks and then crust over and disappear. One important clue that you’ve got shingles: it will appear on only one side of the body. It’s common on the trunk, the buttocks and the face.
It’s after the blisters have healed that the real agony of shingles may be experienced. Called postherpetic neuralgia by the medical community, the sharp, shooting, piercing pain that can persist for years after an outbreak of shingles leaves victims in agony. The older you are, the more likely you are to experience lingering pain, but only ten percent of all shingle patients will experience this.
Getting prompt treatment may reduce the odds that you’ll suffer from pain after your bout with shingles. (and if it’s consolation, most people will only experience shingles once.)
If you suspect you have shingles, you need to get medical attention. If you are older; ill with another condition; or you have shingles on your face (especially near your eyes, as it can lead to vision problems), leg, hand or genital area, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible. “This isn’t as urgent as heart attack, but it’s next level,” says Philip C. Anderson, M.D., chairman of dermatology at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Experts can’t stress enough the importance of getting medical help immediately.
If the diagnosis is indeed shingles, you might want to ask your doctor about acyclovir. This antiviral drug, if given early in the course of shingles, may help prevent pain down the road.
Although experts emphasize getting medical help, there are some things you can do to help relieve pain and itching during the early stage of shingles, when the blisters are present, and to cope with lingering discomfort once the blisters have cleared up.
Cool the pain. Cold packs can help relieve the pain from hot, blistered skin. Place a cold cloth on the blisters or wrap a towel around the affected area and pour ice water on it, suggests Anderson. Use for 20 minutes, then leave off for 20 minutes, and repeat until the pain decreases. Or try a cold milk compress, suggest Judy Jordan, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in San Antonio and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. Wrap a bag of frozen peas or frozen unpopped popcorn in a thin towel and place it on the affected area.
Stay in bed. Rest will help your body’s defences come to the rescue.
Take an anti-inflammatory drug. Ibuprofen helps reduce inflammation and is the first line of defense in fighting the pain. Aspirin may also be helpful. If you are allergic to ibuprofen and aspirin, you can take over-the-counter acetaminophen for the pain (although it won’t do much for the inflammation). If these don’t help, ask your doctor to prescribe something for the pain. Codeine or other mild narcotics can help reduce the pain in the early phase of the shingles.
Rub on relief. Your doctor may recommend or prescribe a topical local anaesthetic cream to be used on your blistered skin. Be leery of over-the-counter products that contain Benadryl or any ingredient ending in –caine, however, these can cause allergic reactions and may worsen the situation.
Don’t pop the blisters. “It’s temptation for some patients,” says Jordan. But it will only make matters worse.
Don’t spread them. Although it won’t bring relief to you, stay away from those at risk. Avoid people with any sort of immune problem, such as transplant patients, and children who haven’t been exposed to chicken pox.
Consider a hot pepper fix. Once the blisters have healed, but the pain persists, what options do you have? Apply hot peppers? Not exactly. But Zostrix, an over-the-counter cream containing capsaicin, derived from hot peppers, may help. Not everyone’s impressed with it, however. “It may make the pain worse the first two or three days,” says Jordan, “and none of my patients have been willing to tolerate that.”
Try to relax. Learn self-hypnosis, imagery, or meditation or do whatever you can to relax. It certainly won’t hurt you, and it may help you deal more effectively with the pain.
Try TENS. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. With this technique, a weak electrical current gives you a tingling feeling that may help block out the pain signal, explains Mitchell Max, M.D., chief of the Clinical Trials Unit at the National Institute of Dental Research/National Institutes of Health (NIDR/NIH) Pain Research Clinic in Bethesda, Maryland. You can purchase TENS unit for home use; he says they should be priced below $100.
Consider an antidepressant. Some studies have shown that low doses of antidepressant medications help relieve post shingles pain, even in patients who are not suffering from depression. How? Antidepressants block the removal of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. If you have extra amounts of serotonin, it may keep pain signals from reaching the brain, so you don’t feel the pain. Talk it over with your doctor to determine if an antidepressant may be of help to you in coping with post shingles pain.
This information were compiled from http://www.news-medical.net/ and The Home Remedies Handbook.