Shingles, technically called "herpes zoster," is a viral disease that causes painful rashes and blistering, typically in a striped pattern. It is a fairly common disease, and typical symptoms usually go away on their own within about two to four weeks. However, in some cases, nerve pain can linger, sometimes for periods of months or even years. There is no way to predict whether or not an individual patient will experience this lingering nerve pain or not.
Cases of shingles always occur in people who have had chicken pox. Infection with the varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes chicken pox, but after symptoms of chicken pox go away, the virus remains present in the body and can later cause shingles. While not all people who have had chicken pox go on to get shingles later in life, it is impossible to get shingles without first having had chicken pox.
Non-specific fever-like symptoms are the first warning signs of shingles. These include fever, headache and general lethargy. Then, pain and itching, skin hypersensitivity, numbness and tingling appear, followed by the outbreak of the rashes and blisters that are characteristic of acute infection.
Because shingles is a viral illness for which there is no cure, treatment aims to reduce the pain and suffering of the patient, reduce the possibility of lasting side effects, and shorten the duration of the disease's natural course.
Calamine lotion or other topical treatments can be used to soothe the burning pain of the rashes and blisters on the skin, and since the physical pain most people with shingles experience is moderate at worst, over-the-counter painkillers usually suffice. However, in extreme cases, prescription-strength painkillers may be recommended.
Antiviral drugs can be administered if the patient seeks the care of a doctor within 24 to 72 hours of the onset of symptoms. These drugs can reduce the duration of the shingles episode and limit the risk of long-term side effects. However, the efficacy of antiviral drugs depends on an early and accurate shingles diagnosis, which can be quite difficult because shingles first presents with non-specific symptoms. If symptoms appear and your child has had the chicken pox, be sure to report this to your doctor.