Shingles is a viral infection of the nerve cells which manifests as a severe reaction on the skin. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus.
- Viral skin infection
- Causes a severe rash, and blisters
- Antiviral drugs reduce complications
If you think you are displaying symptoms of shingles, you should contact a healthcare professional. You can use our private video consultation service to talk to a UK doctor about shingles online. They will be able to give you advice on managing the condition and any treatment you can be prescribed to help.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a viral infection of nerve cells which causes a fever, followed by a severe rash on the skin. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. It affects three out of every 1,000 people in the UK each year, and the likelihood of getting shingles increases with age; according to the Herpes Viruses Association, six in 10 people who are 85 will have had shingles on at least one occasion. It is possible to get shingles more than once. However, it is extremely rare to get it more than twice.
The virus from which shingles forms is the same one that causes chickenpox. It tends to lie dormant in the body for many years, as most people have chickenpox as children and the immune system stops the virus from working. It is not known why the virus can suddenly reactivate, however it is believed to be the result of a weaker immune system. This could be due to factors such as old age, an illness that affects how well the immune system works, or any extreme physical and emotional stress which can take its toll on the body.
A typical bout of shingles lasts between two and four weeks, and will not develop into anything serious. However, complications can happen if someone with a weaker than normal immune system gets shingles. These include pain and itching after the rash has gone (postherpetic neuralgia) and eye problems such as glaucoma.
What symptoms can shingles cause?
Shingles can vary in intensity. Pain can range from mild to severe, and be sharp and intermittent or more prolonged and dull. The rash will start off as red blotches on the skin, before developing into blisters which eventually burst. The rash may be itchy, and it’s common to feel tingling and burning on the affected skin.
How can shingles be prevented?
It is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of shingles occurring. However, there is a vaccine called zostavax which can reduce the chances of developing the condition in later life.
It’s best to seek medical advice if you think you may be developing shingles. To speak to a Treated.com doctor about shingles online, book an appointment through our video consultation service. Our doctors will be able to discuss your symptoms, give you advice on how to manage shingles, and prescribe antiviral treatment should you require it.
After you have had your consultation, you can buy treatment through our website and have it shipped to your home within one working day. Alternatively, you can ask for an e-prescription from the doctor, so that you can pick up your treatment from a local pharmacy at your convenience.
How is shingles diagnosed?
Shingles can be diagnosed from a number of symptoms. Before a rash has developed, a shingles infection will cause a strange sensation in the skin which is akin to burning or tingling. It can also cause a fever prior to the rash. Once the rash has developed, it will turn into lesions which then burst and leave the skin to crust over. Shingles can also cause neuritis, where the nerves become inflamed, resulting in pain.
Will I need tests?
Not usually. The rash associated with shingles is quite distinct, and a doctor will normally be able to tell that it is shingles just by looking at it, and based on the presence of other symptoms (such as a fever or flu-like feelings of lethargy).
If a doctor suspects that complications may be developing as a result of shingles, or if they aren’t sure what’s causing the rash, they may take a swab of a blister or a blood sample for testing.
What will a doctor normally advise?
A doctor will likely advise a number of precautionary measures to be taken during the 5-7 days that the infection is contagious. Blisters should be covered whilst they are releasing fluid, and kept clean and dry to avoid further infection.
Use of topical creams should be avoided as they can cause irritation to the skin and delay the healing process. It’s best to avoid sharing clothes and towels, and you should wear loose-fitting clothing to stop further irritation. You may also be advised to avoid contact with anyone who has not had chickenpox.
What treatments are there for shingles?
Antiviral drugs such as aciclovir can be prescribed to help the infection clear up faster. Ideally, these need to be taken upon first noticing the rash to be effective; the more the virus develops, the less effective this treatment is likely to be.
If a doctor suspects someone might be developing complications from shingles, they may need to be admitted to hospital for further observation and treatment.
However, shingles is self-limiting in the vast majority of cases. The virus will remain in the body after symptoms have passed and usually remain dormant. While it can reactivate and trigger shingles again, it’s rare that someone will develop the condition more than once.
How is shingles treated?
Antiviral drugs can help the body recover more quickly, but these will need to be taken within 72 hours of the rash first appearing to be most effective. If the rash is cleaned and covered properly whilst it is weeping liquid, and anything that could cause irritation such as topical creams are avoided, this will help to lower the risk of further infection.
What treatments are there?
Aciclovir is an antiviral treatment which works to suppress the activity of the virus, to enable the immune system to make it dormant. People who have shingles will normally be offered the tablet version of this medication.
Over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol can help to lower pain and discomfort associated with the shingles.
There is also a vaccine which can help to prevent shingles, called Zostavax. It is available on the NHS to people aged 70 to 78.
Are there side effects?
Like any other medications, antiviral drugs can cause side effects on rare occasions. The most commonly reported side effects for aciclovir and valaciclovir are vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
Can I consult a doctor about shingles online?
Yes. You can book an appointment to speak to one of our doctors about shingles online through our private video consultation service, at a time that’s most convenient for you. Our doctors will be able to give you advice on how to manage symptoms, and whether antiviral treatment is likely to be beneficial for you.