Shingles is a viral skin condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is also the one responsible for chickenpox. This is why there is a possibility for the VZV to reactivate in the form of shingles for an adult who had chickenpox.
To be more precise, the virus affects the nerve cells and may stay dormant in the cells after the person gets over chickenpox, only to come back later in life. Some of the early symptoms of shingles include sensations such as pain and burning, which may also be milder numbness and tingling. Rashes and blisters would develop in the area several days after the pain.
How Long Does Shingles Last?
In general, shingles last between three and five weeks. People usually get it only once, but that is not set in stone.
The symptoms develop in a few stage stages. At the onset, shingles is characterized by a burning sensation, itchiness, or sharp pain under the skin. Some people might feel numbness as well.
Singles may affect various areas of the body. The first symptoms may appear on the face, around the eyes, or on the ears. But it is not uncommon to get shingles on the chest, back, waist, or thigh.
Regardless of the afflicted body part, the burning sensation and tingling are followed by a red rash within five days of the first symptoms. Soon after, the rash develops into blisters that are full of fluid are localized into small groups. Like all blisters, they might ooze.
In about ten days, the blisters would become dry and crusted. In most cases, it’ll take about two more weeks for the scabs to be gone.
Are There Any Long-Term Complications?
Unfortunately, there are some long-term problems associated with shingles. Most notably, post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This long-term side effect is characterized by an incessant pain which remains in the place where the rash/blisters had been. And senior people are usually more susceptible to PNH.
For some, post-herpetic neuralgia may be the cause of anxiety and even depression. Those affected can also experience sleeplessness and weight loss. What’s more, this condition is known to affect normal daily activities such as eating, cooking, and getting dressed. If any of these symptoms appear, it is recommended to seek medical help.
On the bright side, PHN can be successfully treated with steroid medications which reduce the pain and the duration of the condition. In addition, anticonvulsants, analgesics, and antidepressants may also be prescribed for the pain and other PHN symptoms. At the end of the day, there is no real need to worry since PHN usually goes away with time.
Other long-term complications may include infection of the blister – usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus. The infected blisters may leave a scar so it’s paramount to refrain from scratching and keep the affected area as clean as possible. Nevertheless, if the infection does occur, some antibiotic treatment might be required to stop it from spreading.
Note: Shingles on the face is regarded as a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention. If the eyes are affected, the complications may lead to eyesight damage and even blindness. The afflicted might also develop temporary facial paralysis or hearing loss.
Who Gets Shingles?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three people in the US is likely to develop shingles. There is still no way to exactly determine who is going to develop the condition. Nevertheless, there are some risk factors you should know about.
As mentioned, people who had chickenpox have a greater chance of getting shingles. The risk increases as one grows older since the body may struggle to ward off infections. Roughly 50% of the diagnosed patients are in their 60s. The likelihood becomes much greater as a person reaches 70 years of age.
Besides the seniors, people with a weakened immune system might also be prone to getting shingles. Cancer patients and those with HIV infection are at greater risk. The same goes for organ transplant patients who take immunosuppressants. But healthy individuals can get shingles as well, especially if the immune system is temporarily impaired. For example, prolonged exposure to the sun or cold and stress.
Is Shingles Contagious?
Luckily, there is no way to get shingles from the patient. However, there is a possibility to get chickenpox instead. So, it is a good idea to keep away from a person with shingles if you haven’t had chickenpox.
Likewise, people who have shingles should stay away from those who have a weakened immunity or never had chickenpox.
How to Treat Shingles?
Prescription antivirals like Valtrex, Zovirax, and Famvir can get rid of the virus and lessen the symptoms. In addition, doctors usually recommend other over-the-counter medication to ease the irritation and pain. For example, Benadryl or diphenhydramine can help with the itching and Advil lessens the pain.
On top of that, there are some simple lifestyle changes and home remedies that can help fight shingles. The first line of defense is a combination of ample rest and a well-balanced diet. It wouldn’t hurt to add moderate exercise and start walking more. Placing a cool washcloth over the blisters eases the pain and helps to keep them dry.
Comfortable natural-fiber clothes are also strongly recommended. In addition, calamine lotions and oatmeal baths may soothe the skin and help with the symptoms. There are also ways to prevent shingles from spreading. For example, don’t touch or scratch the rash and keep it covered. In addition, frequent washing of hands may prevent the blisters from becoming infected.
The Bottom Line
Now that you have the answer to the question – how long does shingles last, it’s worth noting that a patient may feel better if they share the problem with friends and family. In addition, taking up activities that can take your mind away from the pain may be beneficial as well. So, feel free to read, listen to music, and enjoy other favorite activities of yours.