What is Shingles and Herpes Zoster?

Herpes zoster (commonly known as shingles) is characterized by an extremely painful, blistering rash that is localized in nature. It is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (also known as the chickenpox virus and herpesvirus 3), which remains dormant within the dorsal root ganglia nerve cells within the spine following initial infection. It then migrates to one or more adjacent sensory nerves within the skin to cause activation of herpes zoster. The blistering rash appears along the pathways of cutaneous nerves.

The first sign is usually significant pain. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tender, Enlarged Lymph Nodes
  • Blistering Rash May or May Not Appear Within Painful Area Within 24-72 Hours
  • Chest, Neck, Forehead, Mouth, Ears, Genital Area, and Back May be Affected

Treatment of Shingles Pain and Depression

The virus is a double-stranded DNA virus, enabling a much broader diversity of replication mechanics than that of their cellular host. There is no cure for this virus. Treatment involves attempts to minimize complications (including pain and depression), and shorten the duration of the active infection. Untreated shingles tends to leave the patient with severe residual effects, such as post-herpetic neuralgia.

What Triggers Reactivation of Varicella and Herpes Zoster?

Anyone who has previously been exposed to the varicella (chickenpox) virus is susceptible to develop zoster. The likelihood of re-activation increases with age. Senior citizens and those with low immunity are particularly vulnerable. A vaccination for shingles is available. Of those who experience shingles, less than 1% experiences a recurrence. Some factors are suspected to trigger reactivation:

  • Spinal Surgery
  • Pressure on Nerve Root
  • Nerve Root Radiotherapy
  • Infections
  • Injuries
  • Contact With Varicella or Herpes Zoster

Postherpetic Neuralgia: Avoiding Chronic Pain After Shingles Infection

Post-herpetic neuralgia is a form of chronic pain. It affects nerves in areas of the body that have previously experienced an outbreak of the shingles virus. The neuralgia is known to occur even in patients who have not actually experienced a visible outbreak of an active herpes zoster infection/rash. Blood antibody levels may confirm the infection. Pain is usually limited to one side of the body; however, both sides may be affected.

The sensation is typically described as an intense burning or stabbing sensation that may be continuous or intermittent. Some additional symptoms may include: numbness, itch, sensitivity or pain from a very light touch or temperature change, sweating, organ damage, and blindness. Insomnia, anxiety, and depression are almost always present due to the intense nature of post-herpetic neuralgia.

Contact Allegheny Advanced Dermatology Center to schedule an appointment. Call: (814) 944-7109.