Shingles

Shingles Treatment in Novato

Shingles is a painful and blistering patch of skin. The virus that causes shingles is the same virus that causes chicken pox, called varicella. Only people who have had chicken pox can develop shingles. After a chicken pox infection, this virus remains dormant or “hibernates” in a nerve root located in the spinal cord. Under certain conditions, the virus reactivates and causes the painful blisters of shingles found along a strip of skin that the nerve supplies.

Patients often notice certain symptoms right before the onset of shingles. Several days prior to the outbreak of the rash, they may feel a sharp or dull pain, burning sensation, or extremely sensitive skin in the involved area. These symptoms can be so severe that they can be mistaken for appendicitis if on the abdomen or early signs of a heart attack if on the chest. Subsequently, clusters of small blisters or red patches will appear on one side of the body, arms, legs, face, or scalp. If the eye is affected, an examination by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) is necessary. Rarely, herpes zoster can be widespread. This occurs when the immune system is impaired by an underlying condition such as HIV disease, leukemia, or lymphoma.

Treatment is more effective if a patient is seen early in the course of shingles. Anti-viral medications are prescribed. Strong prescription pain medications may be necessary. Cool compresses and topical numbing medications are helpful. However, pain can last long after the rash has cleared in which case it is called post-herpetic neuralgia.

A vaccine for shingles, called Zostavax, is now available and indicated for people 50 years of age and older. This vaccine decreases the chance of getting shingles; if shingles does appear after the vaccine, the symptoms are less severe.