Shingles (herpes zoster) is an infection caused by the chickenpox virus, which remains in the body dormant in the nerve roots in your back after chickenpox clears up. When the virus is reactivated and travels along a nerve to the skin, this causes a blistery rash known as shingles.
Shingles typically appears on the face and body and only on one side of the medial line of the body. The rash typically wraps around the body like a belt. On the face, shingles can affect the eye, ear or mucous membranes.
If the body’s immune system has been dramatically compromised as a result of an illness or medication, the virus may cause a widespread infection that can be very dangerous.
The first symptoms include pain on the skin, burning and sensitivity to the touch. In a few days, a rash appears on one side of the body, which is red and usually blistery. The patient may have a raised temperature and feel unwell. Over the next week, more blisters appear, and they will gradually scab over. The rash clears in 4–6 weeks, but the affected area of the skin may stay sore for months, sometimes even years.
A mild episode of shingles usually clears up of its own accord in 4 weeks. Take painkillers or anti-inflammatory analgesics of your own preference to ease the pain and shower the rash area regularly. When the blisters are oozing, the virus may spread to others who have not yet had chickenpox.
When should you seek medical advice?
You should seek medical advice if
- you have an angry rash on your face, as it may spread to the eye and ear and cause additional complications
- your immune system is affected by an illness or medication
- you have severe pain and an exceptionally large area of blistery rash
- your general health clearly deteriorates
- the patient is an elderly person
This Self-care instruction has been produced in collaboration with Duodecim Terveyskirjasto