The facts on shingles

(NC) Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection of the nerves that is painful and can have severe complications. People who suffer from it have described their pain in many ways, such as burns, throbs, shoots and stabs.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your body in nerve cells and as you get older it can reappear as shingles. Although it is most common in people over age 50, anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk.

Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that can last several weeks. Although it usually occurs in one part of the body, such as the torso, shingles can also affect the face and eyes.

For Cathy Dillon of Toronto, 61, the first occurrence of shingles was discovered by her hair stylist when a cluster of red dots on her scalp became apparent during a trip to the salon. Her rash gradually spread along the side of her head and face dangerously close to her eye. “I had to go to a specialist to make sure the shingles weren’t going into my eye,” she explained as cases of shingles affecting the eyes may lead to a loss of vision.

Not only was the rash spreading it was becoming more and more painful. “I had excruciating pain, it felt like my face was on fire,” described Dillon.

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 3 people will experience shingles in their lifetime. For most people, the pain from shingles resolves as the rash heals, but for others it can cause long-lasting nerve pain. This potentially severe nerve pain (called postherpetic neuralgia or PHN) can last for months or years after the rash heals.

In several cases, this ongoing nerve pain can cause complications that may affect normal, daily activities such as walking, sleeping, and socializing. The pain can be debilitating and lead to a loss of independence, anxiety and even depression.

Here are some common shingles symptoms:

1. Pain, itching or tingling in an area on the sides of your body or face.

2. A rash breaks out on the same area a few days later.

3. The painful rash spreads in a single stripe around one side of the body or one side of the face. The rash then forms blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clears up within 2 to 4 weeks.

4. Symptoms can also include, fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.

5. Nerve pain where a breeze or the touch of clothing can cause severe pain.

For more information about shingles speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

This information is provided by Merck.

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