Herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles, is a localized, blistering rash which is usually quite painful and more common in those over 60. The rash usually lasts up to two weeks, but the pain can often continue indefinitely. It develops as a localized reactivation of chicken pox, which frequently occurred earlier during childhood. After the initial infection, the virus lays dormant in the nervous system for years, only to be reactivated later in life by various triggers including stress, fever, sunlight, steroids, etc. Often there is no apparent trigger.
If the infection occurs in and around the eye, blindness can result. Other complications of shingles include bacterial infection due to breaks in the skin. It is critically important to see your physician within 48 to 72 hours of the start of symptoms, which usually begin as burning or achy pain prior to eruption of the rash. Medication such as acyclovir given as early as possible shortens the duration and lessens the severity of the infection. A preventative dose of the Zostavax vaccine is also recommended for those who have had shingles, or for those 60 of age or older.
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