What is Herpes Zoster, and What Can Be Done About It?
Herpes Zoster, also known as “Shingles” is a resurfacing of the dormant chicken pocks virus from childhood. As a child, most of us will contract the varicella-zoster virus, also known as chickenpox. This virus lives with us for the rest of our lives, usually laying dormant and not causing any further issues in adulthood. However, a decrease in cell-mediated immunity causes the virus to resurface and reactivates it. This naturally happens as we age, when our immune systems start to weaken. It can also happen if you are on immunosuppression drugs. It travels through your body along the sensory nerves starting first in the spine and traveling outward, often causing pain and nerve damage.
It eventually reaches the skin and causes a rash. Some of the people affected report flu-like symptoms several weeks before the rash finally reaches the skin and visually showing. They will have pain in a certain region for 2 or 3 days before the rash appears as it erupts in a hive-likee rash and eventually it can progress into big blisters or even blood blisters. There are regions where herpes zoster can surface that are a little more dangerous. One can get Herpes Zoster Oticus which can be very damaging as it affects the face and ear and it has negative effects on the nerves which control movement and if it becomes severe it can damage those very crucial sets of the nerve causing a one-sided facial paralysis or even deafness. This being such a serious and damaging issue it is extremely important that it be detected and treated as soon as possible.
Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus
Another important one to detect early is Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus. This Zoster involves the eye. If you first have pain in your face followed by blisters on your forehead, nose, and eyes this indicates a serious issue. The blisters affecting this region can cause nerve damage to the eye and cause blindness. Another form of Zoster is across the left side of the chest. Often mistaken in men to be a heart attack due to its location of the pain in the typical “heart attack” area on their left side. As this Zoster travels taking weeks to surface into blisters, it can cause severe nerve damage. Nerves do not repair themselves so easily and it could leave you in pain for months or even years.
Luckily there are therapeutic options for Herpes Zoster. First and foremost it is important to initiate early therapy. In most cases, oral antiviral treatment is enough to combat this issue.
But when not detected early enough more invasive methods are needed such as intravenous treatment. These are recommended especially in cases where you have Herpes Zoster in the face region and especially the eye. You may need ocular involvement for cases where the Zoster had spread through much of the body instead of being contained to just one spot on the body. This may need to be treated at a hospital for its internal involvement. Again, early detection is important so that you do not get what is called Posturepedic Neuralgia which is a persistent shingle that can last for many months and sometimes years. You want to diagnose and treat this issue right away to avoid any further complications you see. Because this is a serious thing that could leave you facial paralysis, permanent blindness, extreme pain due to nerve damage which could last for years.
Antivirals are our first step in defense, usually as an oral medication which is a treatment of about 10 days. In certain cases like the eyes and face, a doctor would likely prescribe Prednisone as it could help prevent some of the nerve damage that could lead to facial paralysis and blindness as those are very sensitive areas. And in many cases, it is so painful that a doctor might prescribe you to take some sort of narcotic to dull the pain. In less painful situations an anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen would be suggested. So get your regular check-ups. When you notice that things are “off” with your health you should seek the opinion of your doctors. Don’t ignore your symptoms because you never know if you could be avoiding a potentially serious situation.