What Causes Shingles?
What causes shingles? You might have asked yourself that question before, and many people are still doing the same. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a rash that is painful, and is always accompanied by blisters. It is a condition that affects more than 20 million Americans every year, equally affecting both men and women. However, it is a condition that is more common among elderly people, and those suffering from certain chronic health conditions such as diabetes and HIV; this is because of their weak immune system.
Shingles usually last for 2 to 4 weeks, and during this period, a tingling sensation will first be felt in the area affected, and later pain, and then a rash. Although the most likely affected parts of the body to experience pain and a rash are the chest and abdomen, you can also feel shingles in the legs, arms, eyes and the face. You may experience continuous pain in the affected area, which some regard as dull, while in others, is a burning sensation.
Rash is a common symptom of shingles, and is experienced along with the pain, starting off as red blotches on the skin, and rapidly developing into blisters which are itchy. For 5 to 8 days, you may have the blister on you, and after some time, becomes yellowish before drying out.
What Causes Shingles Today?
Shignles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same one responsible for chickenpox. After recovering from chickenpox, the body does not rid itself of the virus, which means that it is only in a state of dormancy, remaining hidden in the roots of the nerves. Different people respond differently to this virus; in some, the virus could remain inactive throughout your lifetime, while in some others, it could be activated after some weeks, months or years. When the virus becomes active, the condition known as shingles will be born. There is still confusion about what really makes the virus to be active; however, it is believed that a weak immune system could be responsible.
Some of the other causes of shingles are:
- Recent surgery.
- Organ transplant.
- Old age, but could start from the age of 50.
- Ceratin drugs which are used in killing cancer cells (chemotherapy) and the ones which help in reducing the effects of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), like etanercept and infliximab.
- Serious disease or illness, like AIDS and cancer.
- Radiation therapy.
- Poor nutrition.
- Chronic diseases which suppress the immune system, like lupus, HIV and diabetes.
Antiviral drugs cannot kill the virus responsible for shingles, but can stop it from reproducing. The drugs are also very powerful enough to reduce the severity of the symptoms, especially if you are taking them within 72 hours of the discovering the rash. The antiviral drugs which are commonly prescribed are valaciclovir, famciclovir and aciclovir, and should be taken for about a week.
In most cases, the drugs are prescribed for those who are at least 50 years old, have weak immune systems, have symptoms affecting their eyes, have a moderate to a severe rash, have moderate or severe pain, and have rash outside the torso, like the legs neck or arms. The physician will discuss the benefits and side effects of each of them before taking.