Shingles is a viral infection that results in the formation of a painful rash of blisters. This shingles rash can typically be found wrapping around either side of the torso, but may also occur on the side of the neck, around one eye or on the face. Though the shingles infection is not life-threatening, it is oftentimes extremely painful. Shingles is becoming ever more common. Vaccines and medications dealing with the disease are often the focus of late-night television commercials. These advertisements may lead one to believe that shingles only appears in older adults; however, this is simply not true. While older generations are more prone to shingles, young adults are not immune. If a person has experienced chickenpox earlier in life, shingles can rear its ugly head at any time.
Shingles and chickenpox go hand-in-hand. Both are caused by the same virus. People wonder if shingles is contagious, the truth is that shingles isn't, but the virus which causes them can be. For those who have suffered through chickenpox, the virus never fully leaves the body. It simply lies dormant in the nerve tissue located near the brain and spinal cord. After many years, this virus can reactivate as shingles. Not everyone who has had chickenpox will develop shingles. For adults under the age of 50, it is most commonly seen in those with weakened immune systems.
The numbers of shingles cases in young adults has risen in recent years. This is attributed to the implementation of the chickenpox vaccine. The chances for a shingles reactivation lessens with a higher exposure to chickenpox. For the past two decades, the chickenpox vaccine has been part of children’s routine vaccinations, drastically reducing the number of chickenpox cases. This is good for those kids, as people who have never had chickenpox cannot develop shingles. For young adults with the dormant virus, this means a reduced opportunity for the exposure that could keep the virus dormant.
The only surefire way to avoid shingles is to never contract chickenpox. For young adults born before the chickenpox vaccine was available, this may impossible. This doesn’t mean there is no hope. Adults who have never had chickenpox are recommended to still get the vaccine. Though it’s not a guarantee against contracting the virus, it can lower the severity and the risk of complications. Adults who have been exposed to chickenpox might benefit from the shingles vaccine. This vaccine can help to keep the shingles virus dormant.
There is no magic cure for shingles. Once the virus becomes active, the patient will have to wait until it runs its course. However, there are treatment options and, started early, these can shorten the duration as well as lower the risk of complications. Medications help to reduce the amount of pain the rash brings on. They also help prevent PNH (postherpetic neuralgia), a neuropathic pain that occurs in the area of the rash after shingles has completely cleared up. PNH can linger for up to a year. For the best chance of success, treatment should begin within 72 hours of symptom onset. Those with a normal immune systems are typically prescribed a seven-day course of treatment. Those with weak immune systems can expect a longer treatment duration. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines can also be used to help reduce pain levels.
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