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Shingles, medically termed Herpes zoster are caused by the same virus as chicken pox – Varicella zoster virus. They are characterized by one sided, severe painful lesions that heal in 2 to 4 weeks.
The lesions are often form a belt shape. This actually explains the origin of the term “shingles”– as this word derives from the Latin term for belt. (6)
The first symptoms are a severe burning, numbing, itching or tingling pain. It appears before the rash.
The pain is followed by a red patch and then small blisters that cluster over a small area.
The blisters contain clear fluid. They break to form small raw ulcers.
New vesicles continue to form over 3–5 days. These dry and form crusts and the scabs fall off in 2 to 4 weeks.
Rarely there is formation of scars. (1)
The rash may appear over the side of the torso between the spine around to the front of the abdomen or chest.
It may affect the face, forehead, eyes and ears as well.
When painful rash occurs around ears, the condition is called Ramsay Hunt syndrome.
Other symptoms are (1, 2) –
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is characterized by (3) –
Postherpetic neuralgia is a common complication of shingles. In this the pain persists in the area where the rash was present after the rash has resolved.
The pain may last for more than 30 days or more than 6 months after rash had begun in the area.
The neuralgia may last for weeks, months and even years. The pain can be severe and affects normal living. It affects the elderly more often than the young. (4)
The stages of shingles thus are (5) –
If the eyes are involved in the condition there may be consequences and complications.
Sometimes the eye lesions may get a secondary bacterial infection. This is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus and less commonly due to group A beta hemolytic streptococcus.
There may be paralyses, pneumonitis (affecting the lungs), hepatitis (affecting the liver), acute retinal necrosis (killing the cells of the retina at the back of the eyes destroying vision). (4)