The SHINGLES: What you need to know about Herpes Zoster

Herpes Zoster or Shingles is a viral illness related to a childhood disease which is the chicken pox. Individuals who recovered from chicken pox may still have the virus dormant in their system. This same virus causes Herpes Zoster once it is triggered or reactivated in later life when the immune system is weakened or compromised.

The initial symptoms are pain, tingling or burning sensation on one side of the body followed by rashes, red patches and small blisters on the skin. The rashes usually comprise a thin area forming from the spine to the front of belly area or chest. Other areas that may be involved are mouth, face, eyes and ears.

Accompanying symptoms may include general ill-feeling, fever, chills, headaches, abdominal pain, joint pain, difficulty in facial muscle movement, drooping eyelid, loss of eye motion, vision problems, hearing loss, taste problems, genital lesions and lymph nodes or swollen glands.

Antiviral medicines may be prescribed to fight the virus. It also helps in reducing pain and complications of the disease. Medications and treatment to reduce pain, itchiness and swelling may also be utilized. These include:

  • Corticosteroids or anti-inflammatory medicines – to reduce pain and swelling
  • Antihistamines – to control itching
  • Cool wet compress – to ease pain
  • Soothing bath and lotion such as colloidal oatmeal bath and calamine lotion – for itch and discomfort relief.

Herpes Zoster patients with fever should stay in bed until the fever is gone and the skin should always be kept clean.

The disease is contagious to people who have never been infected with the virus before. Patients should be isolated until the blisters or lesions are dried already and items used on the patient should be sterilized or disposed properly to prevent spread of infection.


Herpes Zoster usually last for 2 to 3 weeks and most patients fully recover. However, complications may arise depending on the affected nerves and patient condition. Known complications are:

  • Temporary or permanent weakness or paralysis which happens when the virus affects the motor nerves
  • Post-herpetic Neuralgia is pain in the shingles outbreak area that may last for months or years. It is caused by nerve damage after the herpes zoster outbreak. It often occurs in people aged over 60.
  • Blindness if the shingles occur in the eye
  • Deafness
  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Recurrence of Shingles
  • Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

These are serious complications that can be prevented by consulting a medical professional immediately at the onset of the attack especially if the person has a weakened immune system.