Signs and Symptoms of Shingles Outbreaks

What are the signs and symptoms of shingles outbreaks?

Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is a member of the herpes virus family, and commonly known as the herpes zoster virus.

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A note about Signs and Symptoms of Shingles Outbreaks

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Shingles is a secondary outbreak of the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once the chickenpox clears up (usually in children), the virus, which never leaves the body, lays dormant in the nerve roots of the nervous system at points near the spinal cord and brain.

Only about 20% of those who have had chickenpox have a secondary outbreak of the virus in the form of shingles. It is unclear why the second outbreak occurs, or why it occurs only in such a small percentage of those who have had chickenpox, but it is believed to affect those with a weakened immune system due to age, health, poor eating habits, or other factors (e.g. chemotherapy, immuno-suppressive drugs, etc).

So, what are the exact symptoms of shingles? Shingles begins with a tingling, burning pain, usually only on one side of the body. This pain can be mild or severe. A rash appears next, in red patches, often in a band, a strip, or a small, straight area. The rash can be accompanied by a headache with sensitivity to light. Flu-like symptoms of shingles may occur at this stage, and you may or may not have a fever.

Blisters looking similar to early childhood chickenpox soon appear. They fill with fluid, break, form ulcers that begin to dry almost immediately and crust over, in cycles along the path of the nerve line being affected. This takes an average of 2 to 4 weeks, from the beginning to the point the crusts (scabs) have all fallen off.

The rash usually follows a path from the spine around the torso to the belly or chest area, but can also involve the face, including the eyes and mouth, the neck, arms or legs. There may be blotched areas with or without blisters along the path of the nerve line being affected, or the entire path may have blisters. As a rule, one nerve level only is targeted.

For the most part, the symptoms of shingles heal in due time with little problems. On occasion, bacteria can infect the ulcers, causing a condition known as cellulitis, which is the inflammation of the tissue beneath the skin. There will be fresh swelling, redness, heat and blistering infection, as well as the possibility of red streaks forming at each site which is infected.

Those affected by shingles should avoid foods which are high arginine, such as nuts, peanuts and, sadly, chocolate, while nonfat yogurt can a good way to increase the beneficial lysine. Capsaicin, the 'hot' in cayenne pepper, is used to relieve the pain when applied 3 to 4 times daily to affected areas.

Aloe has been used by doctors as a topical agent for the symptoms of shingles, as has licorice. One of the active components of licorice, glycyrrhizin, has the ability to block the replication of the zoster virus. Other helpful herbs are alfalfa, astragalus, and chamomile.

There are other possible symptoms of shingles, too - it is possible for those affected with shingles to feel dizzy, have abdominal cramps or pains, experience chills or joint pain, as well as have difficulty in patterns of thought. Swollen lymph nodes (glands) can be present, too.

Supplements of vitamins C, B complex and B12 can prove helpful, as can zinc, calcium and magnesium.

Having read about some signs and symptoms of shingles, you may wish to find out more about this condition by reading the other related shingles pages and articles.

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