Recognizing and Treating External and Internal Shingles
Many people are surprised to learn that the virus that causes shingles and internal shingles is actually the same one that causes chickenpox. Where the shingles virus most typically affects the outer part of a person’s skin, sometimes it can end up affecting the ears, eyes, mouth, internal organs, and even the brain. We are going to take a look at the symptoms of shingles (both the external and internal signs) and run through the treatment options available for it.
First, we are going to start off with a little background on the shingles virus. The medical name for the virus that causes both chicken pox and shingles is called the varicella zoster virus, and it falls into the same category as the herpes virus (think cold sores and genital herpes). Chickenpox usually infects children; however adults can be infected as well. Even though the symptoms of chickenpox will go away, the virus remains dormant in the nervous system. Sometimes the virus can become activated later in life causing an outbreak on the skin or internally—this outbreak is called shingles. So, people who do break out with shingles have already had chickenpox at some point in their lives.
There are several things that can cause the varicella virus to reawaken. Stress is a condition that everyone suffers at some point in their lives, and even a serious bought of stress can cause a shingles outbreak. An immune system deficiency, such as that caused by AIDS, as well as cancer can trigger a shingles outbreak. Most often than not, though, a cause for the outbreak is not detected. Anyone who has had the chickenpox before could potentially have a shingles outbreak; however it is more common among the elderly.
The first symptom of an external shingles outbreak, which is the most common type of shingles, is sensitive skin or a painful burning sensation on a patch of skin. This usually occurs several days before any visible signs occur. The visible symptoms start off as little red spots with blisters on top. They usually form a band-like shape on the body because the spots follow the path of the nerves in the body. During this time, the patient may experience flu-like symptoms and headaches. Several days later the blisters should burst which may result in seepage from the area. Overall, one can expect the shingles to last about three or four weeks from the onset of skin pain to the popping and crusting of the blisters.
Sometimes shingles can have a particular affect on areas inside the body. This is called internal shingles. As shingles tends to crop up around nerves in the body, it is possible for it to attack nerves near the eyes or inside the ear, which could result in vision changes (including blindness) or hearing difficulty. Internal shingles can also cause sores inside the mouth making it difficult for the patient to eat or swallow. In severe cases, shingles can even attack the nerves near the brain resulting in inflammation.
To treat shingles, the patient is usually prescribed an antiviral medication. Ideally, this medication will shorten the length of time the patient suffers the outbreak, but only if the patient begins taking the medication within three days from the onset of the blisters. For external shingles, patients are encouraged to keep the skin clean by bathing with soap and water. They can also apply calamine lotion to the affected area to soothe irritation or itchiness.
It is important to know that while a person is suffering a shingles outbreak they are contagious to others who haven’t had chickenpox before. Say an adult breaks out in shingles and then comes into contact with a child that has never had chickenpox—that child will likely contract chickenpox. Anyone who suspects that they have a shingles outbreak should visit their doctor right away for a proper diagnosis.