The rash of shingles is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. This is the virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has been infected with the varicella virus, the virus travels back into the body and waits. For various reasons, the virus can reactivate, travel down the nerve to the skin, and causes the shingles rash.
Appearance of Shingles
The first symptoms of shingles are usually itching, tingling, or significant pain with just a light touch. This pain occurs on one side of the body in a band-like area called a dermatome. During this time, people often experience headache, sensitivity to light, and fatigue, but rarely fever. One to five days later the rash starts as an area of redness that progresses quickly to clusters of fluid-filled blister.
The goals of treatment for shingles are to:
- Shorten the duration of the eruptive stage or rash
- Speed up healing of the lesions
- Relieve patient discomfort
- Shorten the duration of postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)
Shingles is usually treated with:
- Prescription oral antiviral drugs to reduce the duration of the infection
- Prescription and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation
- Prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription antidepressants to help with the pain
The duration of shingles can be significantly reduced for many people with the use of oral prescription antiviral medications. It is important to go to the doctor as soon as you suspect you may have shingles. Shingles should be diagnosed and treated early (within 72 hours, or 3 days) after the rash appears. Oral antiviral medications like FAMVIR® (famciclovir) are used to treat shingles. FAMVIR is available in easy-to-swallow tablets.