Shingles: what are they and how do they look?

Shingles is known as a very painful breakout which stems from the herpes zoster virus, which is the same that causes the chicken pox.  This outbreak appears when a virus that attacks nerve cells becomes active again after some time, and therefore causes the breakout or rash.

Something like this happens: once you have had the chicken pox, the virus Zoster remains in the body’s nerve tissues; the truth is, it never goes away.  I just remains inactive.  But the problem is that it could become active again later and it is precisely during this recurrence that shingles appear.

It is thought that the reason the herpes-zoster virus is revived lies in the immune system.  Over time it weakens after having had the chicken pox during infancy.

What happens when the virus becomes active again?

When the virus becomes active again it begins to propagate through nerves, which is exactly why it generally creates an uncomfortable itching and burning sensation in the affected areas.  At that moment, the virus is circulating throughout the entire nervous system, but it only arrives at the skin within two or three days.  Once it reaches the epidermis, grouped blisters appear throughout the entire surface of the affected nerve.  The skin could respond with great sensitivity, which causes a lot of pain.

Is it possible to catch shingles?

If you have ever had the chicken pox, you could run the risk of getting shingles if the virus becomes active again.  However, the virus generally becomes active again in those who have a weakened immune system, or individuals older than 50 years of age.  The risk becomes larger as one ages.  Likewise, if an individual is receiving cancer treatment, or if he or she has HIV, it is quite likely that they will get shingles.  In the latter group, it will probably appear as one of the first symptoms that hint that something is not right with the immune system.

What are the symptoms?

Lower back pain1. The first sign is generally a strong pain on just one side of the body, accompanied by itching or burning.  The burning or pain could be very intense, and in most cases, it appears before any outbreak, announcing its coming.

2. Another symptom that one could appear is the formation of patches on the skin, which are replaced by small blisters.

*Other possible symptoms:

  • Fever and chills
  • Genital ulcers
  • Joint pain
  • General malaise
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Inflammation of the lymphatic ganglia

*If the virus affects a facial nerve.

  • Vision problems
  • Loss of eye movement
  • Problems with or reduction of the sense of taste
  • Droopy eyelid
  • Difficulty moving some facial muscles


This could cause fatigue, low grade fever, and minor muscle pains.

Is it curable?

Shingles can definitely be cured.  At this point, you need to see the doctor so they can diagnose you, or so they can prescribe possible treatment or medications to fight the virus.

Generally anti-viral medications are use, which could possibly reduce pain and prevent complications; likewise, they also reduce the duration of the illness.

These medications can be used 24 hours after the first sign of pain or burning.  In order to be cured, it is better to start taking the medications before the blisters appear.

On the other hand, for speedy improvement, we recommend bed rest until the fever subsides.  Also, wash non-disposable items in boiling water; also, keep your skin clean and above all, do not reuse contaminated items.


The virus could last for two or three weeks and strangely reappear.  It is important that you take care of yourself and that you get diagnosed.  In extreme cases, or wen the virus affects motor nerves, this could cause not only weakness but it could also cause temporary or permanent paralysis.  The pain is usually very faint, but it could also become very intense and unbearable.  Remember to take care of yourself and rest.