This patient information and photograph on "Shingles" is provided by John L. Meisenheimer, M.D. a board certified Dermatologist and skin care specialist based in Orlando, Florida. This information is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice or treatment of a dermatologist or other physician.
What is it? Varicella-Zoster also known as Herpes-Zoster is a common eruption of the skin.
In lay terms this disorder is known as "Shingles". It can occur at any age, but it is more frequently seen in elderly adults. Typically "Shingles" appear as multiple tiny water blisters on red inflamed skin, and it is often preceded by pain arid burning. The eruption can occur anywhere on the skin. Many will have lingering pain persisting after the rash has healed.
What causes it? "Shingles" is caused by a viral infection of the skin. It is the same virus that causes chicken pox in young children. When you had your episode of chicken pox as a child the virus burrowed down the skin nerves and began living quietly in the nerve "roots". For an unknown reason, this virus reactivated, it climbed back up the nerves (causing the pain and burning sensation) and erupted on the skin.
Is it dangerous? For the average healthy person "Shingles" is a harmless disorder. It is not dangerous unless you have a suppressed immune system. In a few cases "Shingles" may
involve the face or eye and this can be more serious.
Can it be cured? "Shingles" typically resolves without treatment, but treatment can speed a cure and, lessen discomfort. Early treatment may be important in preventing post-zoster pain.
Will it spread? It usually stays localized to one area of the body although this can be a large area. "Shingles" will also appear on only one side of the body.
Can I get it again? It is very rare for a person to have more than one episode of "Shingles", but it can happen.
Is it contagious? People with "Shingles" can give chicken pox to anyone that has riot had chicken, pox, but you cannot give "Shingles" to others. You should avoid contact with newborn babies and those with suppressed immune systems until your "Shingles" has healed.
What about the pain? Pain lasting long after the "Shingles" has healed is called post-herpetic neuralgia. It is thought that this pain comes from nerves damaged by the virus. In many cases the pain is very difficult to treat. I f one treatment plan does not work we will keep trying until we find something that will give you some relief. In rare cases the pain may last for years, but in most the pain fades after a few months.