Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body's nerve tissue. Later in life, the virus can reactivate, causing shingles.
Shingles typically causes a painful rash that develops on one side of the body. The rash may be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, headache, and chills. The rash can take several weeks to heal, and in some cases, it can lead to long-term nerve pain in the affected area.
If shingles is left untreated, there can be several long-term effects. One of the most common complications of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is a type of chronic pain that can last for months or even years after the rash has healed. PHN occurs when the nerves that were affected by the shingles virus continue to send pain signals to the brain. Other potential long-term effects of untreated shingles can include scarring, vision loss (if the virus affects the eyes), and neurological problems (if the virus affects the brain or spinal cord).
Treatment for shingles typically includes antiviral medications, which can help reduce the severity and duration of the rash and other symptoms. Pain medications may also be prescribed to manage discomfort. It's important to see a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible if you suspect you may have shingles, as early treatment can help reduce the risk of complications. Additionally, there is a shingles vaccine available that can help prevent the reactivation of the virus and the development of shingles.