Shingle infections are caused by a viral microorganism known as varicella-zoster. This is a virus that belongs to the group of herpesviruses. It causes skin changes, usually a rash, in chickenpox and shingles. The shingle rash is painful, unlike that of chickenpox. The rash of shingle infection is common in adults because they have acquired the chickenpox infection in the past.
Chickenpox infections are responsible for introducing the varicella-zoster virus into the nerves. Once the chickenpox heals, the virus remains hidden in the nerves in a dormant form for a long period. This is why you may have the virus but lack the symptoms associated with shingle infections. Signs of the disease start presenting when several factors make the virus active. These can be things like cold and stressful events.
What is Shingles?
Once the virus is active, you will notice a rash that will appear on the skin of one side of your body. The rash appears in small patches or a band, especially around the waist. With time, the rash increases in size and become blisters. The blisters have soft skin because they contain fluid. Any aggressive cloth fabric, towel, or mechanical stress can burst the blisters open, and the fluid starts to ooze out. The oozing fluid can quickly come into contact with unaffected skin and cause the spread of the infection.
Furthermore, itching is also a common symptom. Your nails can break the blisters and also introduce germs and dirt to the open lesion. The germs multiply in the lesion due to favorable conditions like moisture from the oozing fluid, and warmth. They can lead to a secondary infection of the affected skin and worsen the condition. This is why a good cream for shingles is mandatory when you suffer from a shingle infection. A good cream for shingles should have properties like anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, and pain-relieving properties. The anti-itch property is to prevent the need to itch the blisters, which breaks them and increases the risk of spreading the infection. The anti-inflammatory property prevents the blisters from increasing in size and reduces the burning sensation that patients commonly experience on the affected skin.
Why should you quickly treat shingles?
Ideally, you should see a medical physician within three days of noticing the painful rash. Alternatively, you can look for a good shingles cream the moment you notice the painful rash. If unsure about the shingles cream’s effectiveness, consult your dermatologist on the appropriate shingles cream to use. Failure to quickly treat the infection has several consequences:
It can spread the infection to become severe.
When you fail to treat the virus early, it multiplies in the body to increase the viral load. The high viral load presents as an increase in the painful rash. For example, if your rash was initially on the face, it spreads and appears on the same side’s upper torso and back. The longer you linger without seeking treatment, the further the infection spreads. Your symptoms will also worsen; the burning sensation and pain worsen. A widespread and severe shingle infection is challenging to manage. As a result, your shingle infection will last longer than usual. In normal circumstances, the infection can heal within two weeks when you seek early treatment. However, when severe, it can take over one month for the infection to heal.
It increases the risk of complications.
When left untreated for an extended period, shingle infections cause a variety of complications. These complications are avoidable by seeking quick treatment. Complications of shingle infections vary based on the parts affected by the rash. If the rash affects facial parts like the eyes and ear, you will develop complications like loss of vision and hearing problems, respectively. The virus can also spread to the brain and cause brain inflammation. However, a significant complication in most shingle infection patients is post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This condition develops when the nerves that house the virus become damaged. PHN is associated with pain, tingling sensation, and increased sensitivity to a light touch. These symptoms can present several weeks to months after the shingle infection is cured.
Therefore, quickly treating the shingle infection lowers the risk of the above complications and quickens healing. You will also have reduced scarring due to early treatment of the infection. This is because the virus does not spread. Late treatment of the infection is associated with widespread scarring because the rash spreads in the body.
Treatment of Shingles
Although shingle infections have no cure, you can reduce the multiplication of the virus. This is the most crucial step of treatment because when the virus multiplies, it increases in number. This causes the infection to affect more parts of the body, making it severe. Your dermatologist or health physician will recommend an antiviral drug like acyclovir to reduce the spread of the virus. Other medications like antihistamines, anti-inflammatory, and pain relievers are also essential for treatment. These drugs are most beneficial when used as creams or ointments because these formulations localize the effects of the drugs to the affected areas.
Additionally, various home remedies help soothe the affected skin and improve symptoms such as itching and burning sensation. Some of these include:
- For pain relief, wrap a pack of ice or frozen peas in a small towel and compress it on the affected skin. This also decreases the redness and inflammation of the area.
- Change your diet to boost the ability of your immune system to fight off the virus. Foods to achieve this goal include vitamins A, C, E, B12, leafy green vegetables, dairy products, legumes, whole grains, tomatoes, yellow and orange fruits, and fish. Some foods to stay away from when you have the infection include foods with a high saturated fat content, high sugar content, refined carbohydrates, and those rich in arginine. These foods further weaken your immunity, and some, like those rich in arginine, have the potential of triggering viral multiplication.
- Herbal medications can also help relieve symptoms of the infection. Some things you can try are St. John’s Wort and green tea.