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What Are Shingles?

Characterized by a painful skin rash, shingles is a condition that appears as a band, strip or even a small area on one side of the body or face.

Shingles, clinically known as herpes zoster, is a common disorder among older adults and those with weakened immune systems due to certain medications, stress or injury.

When a person has had the chickenpox, the shingles virus lies dormant in the nerve roots. For some, this virus remains dormant forever. For others, the virus awakens when factors such as aging, disease or stress weakens the immune system causing the shingles rash.

The symptoms of shingles vary depending on the situation. In the early stages, the symptoms are as follows:

  • Headache
  • Light sensitivity
  • Flu-like symptoms but no signs of a fever

As the condition begins to progress, the person may also begin to experience the following:

  • Itching, tingling or pain in a specific area
  • Fluid-filled blisters that will break open and crust over
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • A red rash that will appear a few days after the pain

In most cases, pain is the first symptom of this condition. Depending on the location of the pain, symptoms of shingles can be mistaken for symptoms of other problems relating to the heart, kidney or lungs. However, in most cases, the band, strip or small area of the rash (which is usually a cluster of blisters) appears on the left or right side of the torso, while in other cases the shingles rash can appear around the eye or on the side of the neck or face.

People who have had chickenpox are at risk for developing shingles. However, there are other factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing this condition:

  • Certain diseases, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, which can weaken the immune system
  • Chemotherapy or radiation which can lower a person’s resistance to diseases
  • Medications meant to prevent the rejections of transplanted organs, as well as a prolonged use of steroids
  • Shingles is most common in people older than 50.

Though shingles isn’t life threatening, it can be very painful and shouldn’t be ignored. Check back in the coming weeks to learn about the treatment options for the shingles rash.

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St. Barnabas Health System,
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St. Barnabas Health System
5850 Meridian Road
Gibsonia, PA 15044

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