Shingles is a disease of the nervous system. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. The first time a healthy person comes into contact with the varicella-zoster virus, it causes chicken pox. Symptoms of chicken pox linger for several weeks before disappearing. But even after successful recovery from the disease, the causative virus does not entirely leave the body. It hides in sensory nerves that innervate different dermatomes in the body. There, the virus stays in latency for years or even decades.
If it happens that the latent virus becomes activated, it will cause shingles rather than chicken pox. Reactivation is usually caused by weakened immunity although stress is also thought to partly responsible for some shingles flare ups. How the virus remains latent for many years is not fully understood.
1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime. Most cases occur on the face, torso and lower back. Regardless, any part of the body, including fingers and hands, can be affected.
Can I get shingles on my fingers?
Several dermatomes cover fingers. They are served by nerves C6, C7 and C8. So can I get shingles on my fingers? If it happens that herpes zoster virus affects any of these nerves, shingles can appear on the fingers. This is not very common however. The nerves that innervate different dermatomes branch from the spinal cord. For this reason, the chances of herpes zoster virus travelling all the way to extremities are minimal. People get varicella-zoster virus after breathing in contaminated air or the virus coming into contact with the conjunctivitis in eyes. For this reason, dermatomes covering the face, chest and trunk are more easily accessible. Can you get shingles in your mouth? Just like on fingers, shingles in the mouth is not common but possible. And can you get shingles under both armpits? Shingles affects only one part of the body without crossing the midline.
Anyone who has had chicken pox can get shingles. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk since immune cells help keep herpes zoster virus in latency. Age and stress are also considered risk factors. You cannot get shingles from an infected person. However, the herpes zoster virus can be passed to healthy people when the disease is in its blister-phase. Transmission occurs during direct contact with the blisters or the fluid that oozes from them.
Does stress cause shingles? Stress is what we call a trigger. Triggers do not necessarily cause a disease. What they do is make conditions favorable for occurrence of a certain disease.
Shingles on fingers symptoms
No matter where it occurs, shingles presents with pretty much the same symptoms. This is unless internal shingles is involved. With internal shingles, the rash and blisters do not materialize. Internal shingles treatment is usually very necessary.
So what are the shingles on fingers symptoms? Shingles begins with flu-like symptoms. These include fever, fatigue, nausea and headache. More patients complain about fatigue and less about fever.
After a day or two, pain develops on localized areas such as on one side of affected finger. Shingles pain has been described as excruciating. It often begins with tingling, itching, stinging or burning. These are caused by herpes zoster’s migration from nerve fibers towards the skin. With time, the pain will become intense. Some patients develop prolonged pain which linger even after other symptoms of shingles have disappeared. The condition is known as post-herpetic neuralgia. It is thought to be caused by over-sensitivity or inflammation of nerve fibers which have recovered from damage.
The infamous shingles rash appears 2-3 days after first symptoms. The unique thing about the rash is that it forms a stripe or band-like appearance. This can be clearly seen in pictures of shingles on chest. The rash appears at the same time with blisters. They start as small bumps which soon develop into lesions and ultimately into blisters. Often, the blisters rupture and ooze before crusting over. New blisters may keep appearing several days after appearance of the rash. The whole process takes 2-4 weeks.
Can shingles cause breast cancer? Shingles has not been shown to cause breast cancer. If the two diseases occur almost at the same time, it is very likely that compromised immunity is to blame.
Shingles on fingers treatment
There are other diseases and conditions that can be mistaken for shingles on the fingers. Such include eczema, bacterial infections and psoriasis. Doctors often recognize a shingles rash during physical examination. To confirm diagnosis, a scraping of the blisters may be taken for examination under a microscope.
Shingles on fingers treatment may be done with the following options:
- Antiviral drugs – examples of antiviral drugs commonly used to treat shingles include acyclovir and valacyclovir. Acyclovir shingles dosage should be taken as instructed by a doctor. They do not necessarily cure the disease but may help prevent complications as well as shorten the recovery period. For best results, the drugs should be taken within 72 hours of first symptoms.
- Pain relievers – mild pain can be treated with NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Severe pain requires prescription medications such as opioids.
- Tricyclic antidepressants – these work by inhibiting pain receptors in the body. They are mostly considered when post-herpetic neuralgia is involved.
- Anticonvulsants – anticonvulsants are used to treat seizures in epilepsy patients but have also been shown to reduce severe nerve pain caused by shingles.
- Corticosteroids – both topical and oral corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat both pain and itchiness in shingles patients. The medications also reduce inflammation.
Nonmedicinal treatment options include phenol injections and use of small electrodes placed nearby affected nerves. Other options for how to treat shingles in adults like acupuncture, massage and physical therapy can help. In fact, shingles patients sometimes suffer from depression and anxiety due to prolonged pain to the extent that talk therapy is required.
Shingles on fingers treatment at home
Shingles rash is not a serious disease and can be treated with the following natural remedies for shingles.
Use capsaicin ointments:
Capsaicins ointments help reduce nerve pain very effectively. If not available, a paste can be prepared with chili pepper extract for similar benefits.
Try lidocaine patches:
Lidocaine patches keep affected areas from causing intolerable pain. They should be applied after blisters have cleared up.
Use cool compress:
Cool compress reduces both itchiness and pain. It may also keep affected areas clean to avoid bacterial infections.
Try essential oils:
Essential oils have several benefits to the skin especially when pain, inflammation and infection are involved. They may reduce pain and relieve shingles itch. Essential oils can also help with shingles scars treatment.
Lysine supplements are thought to prevent outbreaks and may shorten the recovery period. Other than supplements, vitamin C and zinc are known to boost immune strength and may therefore help with shingles treatment.
Anti-itch creams and ointments not specifically meant to treat shingles can also help. For example, terrasil is indicated for fungal infections but also relieves itching. This means that although the ointment is not indicated for shingles treatment, it can still help. See terrasil shingles ointment reviews.
How to prevent shingles on fingers
Once you have had chicken pox, there is not much that can be done to prevent a shingles outbreak. Herpes zoster virus reactivates when the immune system becomes weakened. This can be caused by diseases like HIV, medications to treatment cancer or organ transplant. The best way to maintain a healthy immune system is to increase intake of vitamins and minerals. Also, drinking enough water will help.
Another way to prevent shingles on fingers is avoiding direct contact with infected persons. In this case, isolation is not necessary. It can be achieved by simply keeping affected fingers covered until blisters have crusted over.
Finally, you can consider getting shingles vaccine. Vaccines are not curative options but do significantly reduce the risk of shingles complications and possibility of severe outbreaks. Currently, there are two shingles vaccines that have been approved by FDA. Both are recommended for people over age 60.
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