What are Shingles?
Shingles is a viral disorder that appears as a rash, patch, or a line of painful blisters, which arise on the skin over a nerve. The rash often forms a girdle-like belt over the skin area served by a single nerve. In fact, the name shingles is derived from the Latin word cingulus, which means belt or girdle. The disorder frequently appears on a strip of skin over the ribs on one side of the body, on the side of the neck or arm, or on the upper half of the face. Shingles can cause prolonged pain, particularly in older people or those that are weakened by other diseases that affect the immune system. Discomfort can last long after the characteristic rash has disappeared.
- Excessive sensitivity of one area of the skin, followed by pain and irritation.
- After around 48-72 hours a rash appears, first as slightly raised red spots, then as swollen red blisters.
- Blisters slowly dry out, flatten and crust over. Small-pitted scars may be left after the rash has disappeared.
- Pain can persist for months or even years after the rash has cleared.
What causes Shingles?
The virus called herpes zoster causes the skin eruptions of shingles. This is the same virus that causes the common childhood illness chickenpox. Shingles is most common in people over the age of 50. The medical belief is that after a youngster recovers from chickenpox, some of the virus hides, in an inactive state, in the nerve cells. They may then re-emerge years later – perhaps when the body has been awakened by another illness or stress – to cause shingles. Virus particles can be found in the skin lesions. But the nerve track and adjacent lymph nodes are also swollen and inflamed, and thus may contribute to the pain.