Shingles or herpes zoster is a contagious viral infection that is related to chicken pox. Generally it affects people under stress or with poor immunity. Often those infected with shingles are already performing below their best and the pain from shingles is a further blow. It can take some time to recover from the condition.
The virus that causes shingles affects a nerve either near the eyes or along the middle of the abdomen, causing small blisters to form. These blisters are very painful and may burst and take some time to heal. However, for those that are already unwell when they develop shingles, the pain may last for many months after the skin has healed, while the nerve recovers. The pain, described as sharp or burning, is very distressing and may start before the blisters are noticed.
As soon as you believe that someone may have shingles they must see their doctor immediately. Prompt anti viral treatment will ease the nerve damage and help to prevent the pain lasting for as long. Effective shingles treatments are available from your doctor and must be taken for the full course of treatment.
Once shingles has been diagnosed it is important to start taking pain relieving medicine at once. Up to half of the people over 50 who develop shingles still complain of the pain a year after the visible signs of the shingles infection have gone.
As long term pain relieving medicines are required, advice from your community pharmacist can help you control the pain and prevent pain relievers causing further damage. Some specific post-viral pain relieving creams are available from your pharmacy and these may help to relieve most of the pain, allowing you to ‘top up’ with oral medicines as needed.
Your local pharmacist can support and advise to manage and minimise the effects of shingles, and will refer you to further help if products you have tried have not worked to ease your recovery from this painful and debilitating condition.