Shingles, technically referred to as Herpes Zoster, is a painful rash caused by the chicken pox virus (varicella zoster). This virus only affects those who have had chicken pox. Once a person has had chicken pox, the virus lays dormant in the human body. The shingles virus can be activated by stress, a lowered immune system, chemotherapy or any number of other factors. Many times there is known cause for a flare up of the virus within a person's body.
Oftentimes at the onset of a shingles flare up a person may notice a heightened sensitivity in their skin or a burning sensation, which is due to inflammation in the nerves. This nerve generated pain can happen before the rash ever appears. In the early stage, a small blister will appear with a reddened area beneath it. The blisters follow the path of the nerve they are associated with and for this reason they show up in a band-like pattern on the skin. These blisters can continue to form and appear for up to five days. After this period, the blisters will pop. However, the pain from shingles does not always abate simply because the blisters have healed.
Once the blisters from the rash appear, it is very important to keep the sites clean. Open blisters if not cared for can easily become infected. It is best to wash the areas which are infected with a very mild soap and use cool water to rinse it well, assuring not traces of soap are left behind.
If administered within the first 72 hours of the flare up, an antiviral medication can lead to lessened symptoms and a shorter bought with the virus. To treat the pain analgesics and pain medications are often necessary. Cool compresses can be applied to painful areas to help alleviate the pain, as well.
There is a shingles vaccine, called the Zostavax vaccine, that is most commonly administered to those over sixty years of age.