If you are one of the 99% of Americans that have had chickenpox, you likely still have the virus lying dormant in your body. In some people, this virus (called varicella-zoster) wakes up after years of dormancy and causes the painful blister rash of shingles.
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the chickenpox virus. It is most recognized by its distinctive cluster of fluid-filled blisters around one side of the waist. The rash is also commonly seen on one side of the forehead or around one eye. Your symptoms may begin as burning or tingling on one side of your body and then progress to painful groups of small blisters that are often accompanied by fever, chills, headache and an upset stomach.
Even though it is more common in older adults, shingles can develop at an earlier age as well. If you have a weak immune system, either due to an illness or as a result of a medication you take, you are a higher risk for getting shingles. The shingles vaccine cuts the risk of shingles by about half in people over age 60. However, the vaccine does not eliminate all cases and not all people are good candidates to receive the shingles vaccine.
If you are suffering from shingles, it is important to know that there are ways to alleviate your discomfort and reduce the duration of your symptoms. A qualified dermatologist, such as those at Olansky Dermatology Associates, can prescribe specific topical ointments or oral medication to ease the pain of your shingles blisters. There are also steps you can take at home to treat your symptoms including the following:
- Leave your blisters alone! Avoid picking at and scratching blisters so that they can crust over and fall off naturally.
- Use cool, moist compresses to ease discomfort followed by soothing lotions, such as calamine.
- To help dry out your sores, apply cornstarch or baking soda.
- Soak crusted sores with tap water to help clean away crusts, decrease oozing, and soothe this irritated area of skin.
- Ask your dermatologist about using topical creams to help relieve the inflammation.
- Watch for signs of infected skin and promptly consult your doctor for a prescription antibiotic.
Suffering through the shingles virus can be very unpleasant. However, because this is a virus that manifests itself in the skin, it is essential that you get the proper treatment you need from a board certified dermatologist, who specializes in caring for the skin. Trust a dermatologist for your shingles care can mean less discomfort and faster healing time as well as a decreased risk for long-term side effects or lingering pain.