10 Things You Didn’t Know About Shingles and Chicken Pox

2012 October 31
by Michelle

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pox 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Shingles and Chicken PoxShingles is a very painful skin rash that appears in a band or a patch of red bumps on your skin.  You can only get shingles if you have already had chicken pox.  The same virus that causes chicken pox stays in your body and can cause you to get shingles at any time.  To learn more about shingles, check out these 10 things that you may not have known about the rash.

  1. Shingles affects your nerve endings.  If you got chicken pox as a child, the virus will never really leave your body.  The virus attaches itself to your nerve roots and remains dormant until something affects your immune system.  If your immune system is weakened, Shingles can occur.
  2. Often shingles will only appear on one side of your body.  The Herpes Zoster virus (chicken pox) travels down the nerve to the spine and lies dormant.  Because that nerve only serves one side of your body, it is likely that the shingles will only appear on one side.
  3. You can get shingles at almost any age.  If a person has had chicken pox at one point in their life and they have an immune system that is compromised, they can get shingles.  Despite popular belief, children are not immune and it’s not just something that people over 50 get.  Shingles will often occur during chemotherapy treatments because of the compromised immune system, or during any other severe illness.
  4. Stress can bring on shingles.  While many things can compromise your immune system, it doesn’t have to be anything very dramatic.  Have you been under a lot of stress with work and family?  Who hasn’t, right?  Even stress like that can cause shingles, despite there being no other factors.
  5. Shingles isn’t that contagious.  Shingles is not contagious in most people.  It is possible to infect someone with the Herpes Zoster virus and give them chicken pox if they have never had them or have never received a vaccine for them.  However, this can only happen if that person comes in contact with the fluid from the blisters.  For the most part, you get shingles because you had chicken pox as a kid.
  6. The red bumps will turn into blisters if left untreated.  Shingles starts out as a band or patch of blisters that are red and itchy.  As the illness progresses, blisters will develop in the rash.  The blisters will then dry up and scab over before they will go away.  Some people will scar from the blisters and sores that form, which is why it’s important not to pick at the scabs.  You can soak the infected area to speed up the healing.
  7. Shingles is not related to Herpes simplex 1 or 2.  The Herpes Zoster virus causes both chicken pox and shingles.  Herpes simplex 1 causes cold sores, which are blisters around the mouth.  Herpes simplex 2 is the kind that causes genital herpes. 
  8. If you are over 50 you can get a vaccine for shingles.  The shingles vaccine helps prevent shingles in only about 50% of recipients, according to WebMD, and may decrease the pain and duration related to shingles if the virus is contracted after someone has been vaccinated.
  9. Your skin may feel like it’s been burned.  One of the first symptoms of shingles that you should watch for is a burning feeling on your skin.  The skin won’t look like it’s been burned.  The burn feels more like a chemical burn than sunburn because the skin is not hot.
  10. Treat the itching with calamine lotion.  There is considerable itchiness with the shingles rash, and it is typically treated with over the counter medicines like calamine lotion.  Other anti-itch medicines like cortisones can also help the itch.  Other home treatments can include cold compresses and ibuprofen for the pain.

If left untreated, shingles can be one of the most painful things to endure, but there is hope if you can recognize it early and seek treatment right away.  If you start on an antibiotic and antiviral medication from your doctor as soon as you realize you may have it, you could avoid getting the blisters altogether.  Instead of treating it for four or more weeks with possible scarring, you could cut that down to only a couple of weeks.  The trick is to seek medical attention early.  Shingles can also cause numbness in fingers, but that will most likely go away over time.

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