Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. In a person who has been exposed to chickenpox or its vaccine, the virus can lie dormant in the nerves for many years. However, in those with weakened immune systems (due to old age or disease), the virus can get reactivated decades after they had chickenpox.
It presents as a band-like rash on one side of the body, along with flu-like symptoms. The rash develops as itchy lesions with tingling to extreme pain in the area and extreme sensitivity to touch or temperature changes. This happens because of the damage that occurs to the nerve fibers during an outbreak of shingles. Damaged fibers cause the exaggerated pain sensation on the skin, which has been described as intense burning, stabbing pain, shooting along the course of the affected nerve. This is known as post-herpetic neuralgia or nerve pain. Chronic, excruciating pain may lead to depression and difficulty in sleeping or concentrating.
Adults over the age of 50 may be given a vaccine for shingles as a preventive measure. Patients are treated with pain relievers and antiviral medications, along with nerve stimulation during physical therapy.
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