the first symptoms that should alert you – Tabu

Have you ever had chicken pox? So you are potentially susceptible to shingles, especially if your immunity is weakened. Here’s how to recognize this disease.

Shingles (or herpes zoster) is an infectious disease characterized by a painful rash. It is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which belongs to the herpesvirus family. Therefore, it occurs in a person who has already had chickenpox, most often in childhood.

What causes shingles?

After recovery from chicken pox, the virus does not disappear completely: it remains inactivated at the level of the nerve roots. Years later, it can reactivate and lead to shingles. Specifically, the virus multiplies at the level of a nerve ganglion and traverses nerve fibers to cause a painful skin or mucous rash in the territory innervated by these fibers.

Often the cause of this reactivation is unknown. However, we know that it can occur at a time when the immune system is weakened, for example due to:

old age;
a disease (HIV, cancer, infectious disease, etc.);
taking immunosuppressive drugs;
cancer treatment.

What are the first symptoms of shingles?

Shingles tends to appear first on the side of the body where chickenpox was most severe. In half of the cases, this is the chest – we are talking about the intercostal area. The disease can also affect the thoracolumbar region, abdomen, genitals, neck and face.

During the two or three days before shingles appears, most patients experience pain, tingling, or itching of the skin on one side of the body. Lymph nodes may be palpable under the armpit on the same side.

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Then, redness appears on the affected part of the body. A rash similar to small, fluid-filled blisters surrounded by a red area then develops. In the case of intercostal zoster, the rashes evoke the shape of a half-belt: they develop in a horizontal band that extends from the spine to the side of the chest.

Other symptoms of shingles

These lesions continue to appear for 3 to 5 days and are mainly concentrated in the area innervated by the infected nerves, although some blisters may appear in other parts of the body.

These small pimples are itchy and very painful to the touch. They are also contagious and can spread chickenpox to people who are not immune to the virus.

In addition to the rash, patients may also experience:

mild fever;
severe pain on one side of the chest, like a burning or stabbing sensation;
a temporary loss of sensitivity in certain areas of the skin.

Shingles: Disappearance of symptoms

Between 5 and 7 days after the appearance, the blisters begin to dry and form a crust. These crusts fall off after 2 to 3 weeks and may leave pink or whitish scars, but this is not systematic – healing often occurs without sequelae.

Symptoms that persist beyond three weeks may indicate immune system dysfunction. It is recommended to consult a doctor again.

Zoster ophthalmic and auricular: specific signs

Sometimes the virus can affect a nerve that innervates the eye. Ophthalmic shingles is primarily manifested by violent and throbbing headaches located on the forehead and in one eye. Then, a rash appears on one side of the face. It can be located on the forehead, scalp, nose or eyelid.

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This form of shingles is worrisome because it often gives rise to complications such as conjunctivitis, keratitis, paralysis of eye movements and even loss of vision.

Shingles can also affect the auditory nerves. It is characterized by the appearance of vesicles in the ear, but also by tinnitus, vertigo, facial paralysis or hearing loss.

Shingles: What are the possible complications?

The most common complication is postherpetic neuralgia, which occurs in about 10% of patients – and especially in the elderly. This is a burning or electric shock-like pain that persists long after the blisters have disappeared and can last for months or even years. This can be very severe and affect the patient’s quality of life, leading in particular to sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, anxiety or depression.

In addition, scratching blisters can cause another type of complication: bacterial superinfection.

The earlier shingles is treated, the lower the risk of complications, hence the importance of knowing the symptoms well.