Shingles is not one of those diseases that can result in dangerous tumors or widespread danger to tissues. In short, it is not fatal unless serious complications such as inflammation in the brain is involved.
The problem is that symptoms of shingles can last longer than expected or prove intolerable. The main symptoms are identified as a painful rash and blisters. But that is not where it stops. Even before the blisters and rash appear, patients have to deal with flu-like symptoms, tingling, pain and itching.
Anyone who has ever had chicken pox can get shingles. For this reason, not much can be done to prevent the disease. Medications and vaccines aim to reduce the intensity, duration and severity of an outbreak. In this article, we will particularly focus on shingles itch, what causes it, how long it lasts and what can be done to improve it.
What causes shingles itch?
What is shingles virus? Varicella-zoster virus is the virus that causes shingles and chicken pox. Quite a number of people have had chicken pox during childhood and young adulthood years. When the disease is gone, the varicella-zoster virus doesn’t completely leave the body. Some of it hides in sensory nerves that innervate different dermatomes. For example, the virus can hide in sensory nerves that serve the forehead and the upper eyelid. Other commonly affected areas are the lower back and trunk. Since shingles is not contagious, shingles on lips symptoms for example cannot result in shingles on the forehead or face.
The virus remains in latency for years or even decades, producing just a couple of viral proteins, not enough to cause an infection. How exactly the process occurs is not clearly understood.
When certain factors are present, particularly factors like weakened immunity, the dormant varicella-zoster virus may become active once again. In that case, it causes shingles rather than chicken pox. As you may already know, shingles presents with signs of a skin infection and can actually be mistaken for one. This means that the activated varicella-zoster virus has to travel from the nerve fibers to the skin. It is the migration process that causes itchiness. The virus replicates in nerve fibers before moving to the skin. All these factors contribute to itchiness and other early symptoms such as tingling, burning, stinging and pain.
The fact that shingles itchiness has nothing to do with external stimuli makes it a bit harder to treat. With skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, simple home remedies or over the counter creams are able to relieve itchiness without much difficulty. This is not the case with shingles.
How long does shingles last with and without medication?
How long does shingles last with treatment? In most patients, a shingles outbreak lasts for 2-4 weeks. Flu-like symptoms are the first to appear. They are caused by sudden increase in number of viral proteins in the system. These include fatigue, nausea, vomiting and headache. Fever may also be present. The symptoms linger for 2-3 days before rash and blisters.
Next comes itching, which may be accompanied by the earlier mentioned symptoms like pain and tingling. These may last a day or two before the blisters and rash appear.
How long does shingles last untreated? Antiviral drugs do not necessarily flush viruses out of the body. They work by reducing the rate at which viral proteins are made and released into the system. This means that the recovery period can be significantly reduced with treatment. Patients are advised to start treatment within 72 hours of the first shingles symptoms.
Anyone who has ever had chicken pox can get shingles. Regardless, the disease is most common in people above the age of 50 years. It was mentioned earlier that compromised immunity is a leading risk factor for shingles. As we get old, most if not all body systems become less efficient and sometimes shut down altogether. Either directly or indirectly, this leads to weakening of the immune system, which in turn may result in shingles outbreak. Diseases like diabetes, cancer and HIV often accelerate the process. Outbreaks can therefore last longer or be more severe in people with such diseases or who are taking medications to manage them.
How long does shingles itch last?
The funny thing about shingles is that symptoms can linger even after rash and blisters have disappeared. In fact, a shingles rash sometimes fails to materialize.
How long does shingles itch last and how long does it take for shingles to heal? 2-4 weeks is the period a shingles outbreak normally lasts. In some cases, the period can extend to 5 weeks. Later stages are marked by completely crusted over blisters which follow the normal process of wound healing.
Up to 30% of shingles develop complications referred to as post-herpetic neuralgia and post-herpetic itch. The former, as the name suggests is shingles pain that persists for several months or years. The latter is similar to post-herpetic pain, only that both pain and itchiness may be present.
If you have prolonged pain or itch even after other shingles symptoms are no longer present, the best thing is to get in touch with your doctor. It is not likely that they will go away on their own.
Can you get shingles on your leg? You can get shingles on any part of the body. Some areas are more commonly affected than others. Online images and pictures may help with self-diagnosis. This is especially when dealing with body areas commonly affected by different skin conditions. Shingles on buttocks pictures are a good example.
Medications to treat shingles itch
Different medications may help when it comes to relieving shingles itch. They include the following.
Topical corticosteroids are commonly used to treat skin conditions that cause inflammation and itchiness. Mild cases respond to over the counter products while severe cases may require prescription medications. Corticosteroids come with a number of side effects and therefore should be used with care for how to treat shingles in adults.
Antihistamines are commonly used to relieve symptoms of allergic reactions. They excel in controlling aggressive itchiness and can prove very helpful in the case of shingles.
NSAIDs are not specifically anti-itch medications but are normally used to relieve pain. They are available without prescription, although they come with a wide range of side effects. People who have a history of allergic reactions to medications, stomach problems, kidney or heart problems and blood pressure issues should check with their doctors before taking NSAIDs. This also applies when dealing with shingles exposure during pregnancy. Examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen.
Although the majority of the above-discussed medications are available over the counter, the popular advice to always check with a doctor first is always a good idea.
Home treatments to try on shingles itch
If shingles itch is proving a vexing problem, there are some things you can do at home to reverse the situation. This mostly involves using natural remedies for shingles.
Start with cool compress:
A cool compress absorbs the heat from affected areas. It also reduces vasodilation in affected areas so that symptoms of shingles aren’t amplified. To cool compress, soak a piece of cloth in cool water and press against the affected areas for 15 minutes.
Try baking soda paste:
Start by mixing enough baking soda and water to form a paste. Clean the affected areas and pat dry. Apply the paste in a circular motion all over the affected area. Leave for 15 minutes before rinsing with fresh water. Baking soda is quite effective in reducing itchiness.
Soak in oatmeal baths:
Colloidal oatmeal has the ability to restore skin moisture, soothe irritated skin and most importantly relieve itchiness. The best way to use colloidal oatmeal is to add 2 cups to bath water and soak in the mixture for several minutes. This treatment is fairly practical when dealing with cases such as shingles on the lower back or buttocks.
Treat with essential oils:
Essential oils are not only effective for aromatherapy purposes but also excellent choices to use against shingles itch. Good examples include frankincense oil, tea tree oil and lavender oil. The best thing about using essential oils to treat shingles is that they may also prevent bacterial infections. Shingles pain relief apple cider vinegar remedies can also be included in this category.
Soothe with aloe vera:
Aloe vera is mostly considered when preventing bacterial infections. The remedy is also, however, an excellent itch reliever. Best results are more likely to be achieved with raw aloe vera gel, although purchased gel may have similar benefits.
Use calamine lotion:
Calamine lotion is best used when shingles blisters have broken open and are oozing. It helps dry them out thus hastening the healing process. The lotion may also help in treatment of itchiness.
How long does shingles last with vaccines
A friend, professional or someone else may advise you to try a shingles vaccine. Before you decide to try the vaccines, there are a couple of things you should know.
First, vaccines do not prevent shingles. What they do is ensure that should the disease occur, it will not be very intense or last for longer than expected.
Another important thing to know is what options are available. Currently, there are two shingles vaccines that have been approved by FDA: Zostavax, which was approved in 2006, and Shingrix, which was approved in 2017. The former is a live vaccine given in one shot and with an effectiveness of about 5 years. The latter is a nonliving vaccine given in 2 shots 2 years apart and with an effectiveness of probably more than 5 years. This may depend on individual shingles vaccine reaction. Both are recommended for people over the age of 60 years.
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