The Tricky Shingles Virus

25 Jul The Tricky Shingles Virus

As a child, chances are you experienced chickenpox, also known as the varicella-zoster virus. Maybe you caught it from a kindergarten classmate. Maybe your sibling caught if from a neighbor and passed it on to your family. At the time, the symptoms were annoying and uncomfortable. But, after you recovered from that pesky pox, you likely forgot all about the experience.

The tricky issue with the chicken pox virus is it can remain dormant in certain nerve tissue. As you age, it is possible for this virus to reappear in the form of shingles or the herpes zoster virus. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), shingles can affect an estimated 2 in every 10 people during their lifetime. The virus typically affects adults after the age of 50 or those with weakened immune systems, but it can strike at any age.

Unlike the annoying rash, fever, or headaches that typically accompanies chickenpox, shingles can cause severe pain and a blistering rash. Once the rash fades, the pain may continue for months or years, most especially in older people.

Shingles symptoms can range from mild itching to severe pain and include:

  • Rash with clusters of blisters on one side of the body or face lasting 7 to 10 days
  • Severe pain
  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache

This particular complication from shingles is called herpes zoster oticus

When Shingles Appear on the Face

If the virus spreads to the face, it can lead to severe issues with hearing and vision, including lasting eye damage or blindness. This particular complication from shingles is called herpes zoster oticus. In this case, the shingles virus spreads to facial nerves and causes intense ear pain, a rash around the ear, mouth, face, neck, and scalp.

In addition, if the virus spreads to the face, symptoms can include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Vertigo
  • Tinnitus
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of taste in the tongue
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry eyes

If the virus appears near the eye, the symptoms can include, a rash on the tip and side of the nose, along with a rash on the skin at the inner corner of the eye. The eyelid can swell, along with blisters and pain on the side of the forehead.

If you experience some or all of these symptoms, it is vital to see a doctor when symptoms first appear. Early treatment reduces the risk of spreading the virus to the face and eyes. Treatments typically include antiviral medications, along with steroids to help lessen pain.

However, if you experienced chicken pox in your youth, it does not necessarily mean the shingles virus will appear as you age. Even still, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor about getting a shingles vaccine, which is now available. The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine are redness, pain, tenderness, swelling and itching at the injection site and headaches.

Keep in mind; the shingles vaccine does not guarantee you will avoid shingles, but likely reduces the course and severity of the disease.

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