Shingles is quite a painful condition. It is a viral infection, stemming from the varicella-zoster virus, which is what also causes chickenpox. While individuals can only get chickenpox once, the virus will remain dormant in their system for years, when it can then reappear as shingles. The worst symptoms tend to last approximately two to four weeks. However, in some cases, early warning signs develop before a painful rash develops.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for shingles. However, shingles treatments do exist. Typically, patients will need to take antiviral medication for shingles. These will help reduce complications and, ideally, speed up the healing process. Corticosteroid injections, numbing agents, anticonvulsants, and prescription pain medications help reduce the pain that patients experience due to shingles. Of course, many patients also want to try some of the various natural remedies for shingles, including cool and wet compresses for the rash.
Burning, Tingling, And Itching
Although some areas are more commonly affected than others, shingles can affect many parts of the body. Burning, tingling, and itching on the body is often the first symptom, as a patient's sensitivity to pain increases due to this condition. This dull sensation is what causes patients with shingles to experience itching and burning. Some shingles patients will feel a dull tingling, though others will experience sharp pain. It is crucial to seek medical attention regardless of the affected area. However, symptoms affecting the face require immediate medical attention. On average, once this dull pain begins, a rash will surface one to three days later.
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A Severe Headache
Shingles can cause headaches that are more like migraines in terms of severity. Some individuals experience 'ice pack headaches,' which are sharp and often compared to a stabbing sensation. This is often due to pain resulting from the cranial nerves. A headache due to shingles can also result in pain around the eyes or ears. Many individuals often mistake this for a migraine instead.
While there are other warning signs of shingles that often appear alongside a severe headache, it is still important to discuss migraine-like headaches with a doctor. Doctors can conduct tests and ask the appropriate questions to determine the cause and recommend treatment.
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Numbness is also a common warning sign of shingles. However, some individuals may expect the opposite, as shingles is known to be a painful condition. As this virus develops, inflammation occurs under the skin, and the patient's nervous system is affected. As the virus becomes activated, it travels down nerve fibers to the skin.
In many cases, sensory nerves swell and become damaged within a localized area. This damage is what results in numbness and the tingling and burning that many individuals with shingles experience. Some patients will develop a form of neuropathy, also called nerve damage, after their rash subsides. Individuals who experience persistent pain or numbness should work with a doctor to develop a treatment plan.
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A High Fever
When shingles begins to develop and early symptoms surface, many patients experience a fever of one hundred degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Alongside their fever, patients with shingles typically experience chills before the rash appears on their skin. This leaves patients feeling fatigued and worn out.
A fever is a good indication that an individual's immune system is trying to battle an infection or virus. The body naturally raises its temperature because certain viruses and bacteria cannot live at higher temperatures. Once an individual's temperature rises above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, it is considered medically significant.
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Many patients who have shingles experience an overall 'unwell' feeling, including symptoms such as nausea. In some cases, individuals affected believe they are developing the flu. However, when some of the other warning signs are experienced alongside these flu-like symptoms, shingles may be the real issue.
Although nausea and an upset stomach are fairly common, patients may also feel achy. Before a rash breaks out, some individuals experience a dull ache throughout their muscles. For elderly patients, this pain can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities, forcing them to stay in bed.
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Red Rash And Blisters
The rash associated with shingles is distinct from other rashes that individuals may get. It should make it easy for patients and their doctors to determine if they have shingles. A shingles rash consists of lots of blisters filled with fluid. The red rash and blisters are often very painful and will cause significant discomfort. Typically, a shingles rash is located on only one side of the body. The shingles virus most commonly affects nerve roots in the back, neck, chest, or buttocks, so these areas are where this kind of rash will most commonly be found. However, it can occur anywhere on the patient's body. The blisters from a shingles rash should scab over within ten days. Within two weeks, the blisters should be gone altogether. If a patient's immune system is weakened, it may take longer for their blisters from shingles to heal.
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Sensitivity To Touch
Sensitivity to touch can be another warning sign of shingles. Since shingles is often very painful, it causes some patients to be more sensitive to being touched. For some, this may mean they experience pain if someone taps their back. For others, they may be so sensitive to pain that the wind hitting their skin or the feel of their shirt on their back is enough to cause significant pain. Though unlikely, it is possible to have shingles without having the characteristic rash. So, if individuals notice their skin is much more sensitive, they should consult a doctor. Even without the rash, it is essential to have shingles treated to avoid nerve damage and other complications.
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Increased sensitivity to light could be an indication that an individual has shingles. The sensitivity may be to all light, or patients may notice they are more sensitive to certain types of light, such as fluorescent lights, sunlight, or even headlights when they are driving at night. Often, light sensitivity may feel like the beginning of a severe headache, which is why the early stages of shingles are often mistaken for a migraine initially. Even headaches with a sensitivity to light are typically not enough to diagnose shingles early, which is why more discussion and symptom identification with a doctor are quite crucial.
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Unexplained fatigue or exhaustion may also be a sign of shingles. Fatigue means more than just feeling tired. When an individual feels fatigued, they will notice a decrease in their normal energy levels. Fatigued patients may not be able to sustain the level of vigor necessary to complete tasks, such as going to the grocery store, considered routine for them. Significant and unexplained fatigue can also affect an individual's motivation to tackle different tasks. Often, the symptom of unexplained fatigue will present itself before a rash shows up. If individuals notice they are feeling extra tired and have not changed anything in their routine or cannot pinpoint a cause, they should make a doctor's appointment. The sooner they can diagnose shingles and begin treatment, the better.