Shingles: Painful Return of Chickenpox Virus

If youve had chickenpox, you may be at risk of shingles -- a painful skin disease that can lead to serious health complications. Shingles is most common in adults between the ages of 60 and 80, in part because aging can affect the bodys ability to fight off infections. Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox and remains in your nerve tissue.

The June issue of Mayo Clinic Womens HealthSource recommends you see your doctor immediately if you suspect shingles. The earliest warning signs and symptoms are a burning, tingling, or numbness in your skin and a red rash that follows a nerve pathway around one side of your face or body.

Within a week, the rash turns into fluid-filled blisters. Even after the blisters dry up -- usually in one to two weeks -- pain can persist and be severe. In some cases, the blisters can become infected and cause skin scarring. Blisters near the eye can cause lasting damage or blindness. Other problems may include hearing loss or brief facial paralysis.

Although there is no cure, prompt treatment with antiviral medications can reduce the diseases severity and complications. These drugs also may reduce the painful aftereffects of shingles -- a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN can cause sharp, throbbing or stabbing pain long after a shingles rash has healed. Other drugs that may be used for shingles or PHN include corticosteroids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and topical skin creams or patches containing a local anesthetic.

Source: Mayo Clinic