Definition: The Mayo Clinic
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a band of blisters that wraps from the middle of your back around one side of your chest to your breastbone.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you've had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.
While it isn't a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications. Read more . . .
At first you may have a headache or be sensitive to light. You may also feel like you have the flu but not have a fever.
Later, you may feel itching, tingling, or pain in a certain area. That’s where a band, strip, or small area of rash may occur a few days later. The rash turns into clusters of blisters. The blisters fill with fluid and then crust over. It takes 2 to 4 weeks for the blisters to heal, and they may leave scars. Some people only get a mild rash, and some do not get a rash at all.
It’s possible that you could also feel dizzy or weak, or you could have long-term pain or a rash on your face, changes in your vision changes in how well you can think, or a rash that spreads. If you have any of these problems from shingles, call your doctor right away.
Shingles is often treated with an antiviral medicine to reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms. Acyclovir, famciclovir or valacyclovir are commonly prescribed. Your doctor will decide whether one of these medicines is right for you. These medicines work better if you start taking them in the first 3 days after you get the rash.
Your doctor might also have you take a steroid medicine to reduce your pain and swelling. This medicine will also reduce your risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia.
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