What are shingles? Shingles (herpes zoster) is an infectious virus caused by varicella-zoster, -the same virus that causes chicken pox. Usually forming a belt-like pattern along one side of the body, roughly shaped like a stripe or band. Having had chicken pox as a child, the herpes zoster goes dormant for years or even decades in the nerves and can later in life become active, causing that burning, stinging girdle or belt-like pattern I am experiencing. Well, -I have shingles!
What Are Shingles?
Herpes Zoster (the virus that causes "Shingles") gets its scary name from two Greek words, "herpein" ("to creep") and "zÅstÄ“r" ("belt" or "girdle.")
The name Shingles itself comes from the Latin "cingulus" meaning 'to girdle' which really sums-up the onset of the nerve/skin condition, -a painful 'creeping girdle' that usually affects just one side of the body, following specific spinal nerve pathways called dermatome.
Despite the word "herpes" in the name, Shingles is not to be confused with the sexually transmitted disease herpes simplex. The two viruses are only related under the same family herpesviridae.
First Symptoms of Shingles
About three weeks ago, I began noticing that an area over my ribs and under my armpit seemed tender and painful. The pain felt less like 'sore muscles.' The pain felt more distinct and at the skin surface not at all unlike a severe sunburn or a hot water scald. This discomfort formed a 'belt-like' pattern that wrapped around my ribcage to the spine, front to back.
A persistent 'tingling' or 'burning' sensation is how to best describe this. Being still, this belt-like region doesn't hurt. But moving, -it hurts to move, even a little. The way my arm swings when I walk or the way my loose-fitting T-shirt abrades the skin when I move my torso really stings. It is like having a large non-stretching bandaid patch stuck onto my skin. -It is truly weird and disconcerting sensation to move and feel this 'pull' through the skin.
I don't know how many times in the past two weeks I have examined my ribs and back in the mirror, almost hoping to see a large nasty wound or something that I could actually relate to. There was nothing. The skin looked normal in every respect.
The first week was really painful. I almost thought that I had a cracked rib, in fact.
A few long-ish burgundy-red blotches appeared under my arm for a few days, then faded away. By the beginning of the second week, a few small red pimple-like sores appeared on my back and remain to this day. The red pimples did not itch nor were they sore. But they are persistent. Not quite going away, they are slowly fading now only to flare-up for a few hours if I am sweating, working hard or take a really hot bath or shower.
The application of hot athletic rub with capsaicin (of hot chili peppers) really seems to alleviate the pain. At least for a few hours until the effects wear off. Then the tingling, burning, prickling sensation returns. A very hot bath also helps but for a shorter duration than hot cream rub. Telling my doctor this, he sat smiling and nodding. -He apparently understood my symptoms and was already diagnosing me.
I lingered for nearly three weeks before seeking the consul of my family doctor. Upon visual examination he proclaimed quite assuredly that I have Shingles.
He further explained that shingles is the same virus that causes that childhood malady chicken pox, of which I had back when I was maybe 4 year old. I remember it well! Covered in red blisters that itched, -my back, chest, arms and face! -The aches and fever, the tiredness, all of which lasted for days before clearing-up.
You only get chicken pox only once in your life. But you never really 'get over' chicken pox, it just 'goes dormant' for many years. I had chicken pox well over 4 decades ago as a pre-teen and the conditions (age group, stress, etc.) for shingles arising in me is right. That's what I've got, -shingles!
I have Shingles. Time to Get Well
Shingles causes hyper-sensitivity on the skin. And, -it burns like hell.
The mechanism that triggers the dormant herpes zoster virus to re-emerge is unclear, but age, reduced immunity (such as after an illness,) and stress are considered determining factors. I can honestly agree and relate to all three of these factors in my life right now, but that is not up for conjecture. I have shingles. It is annoying and painful. There are potential long-term effects from shingles that I wish to avoid. It is time to get well.
I now have three prescriptions to combat both this virus the associated pain and expect to be gettng some relief soon. While these medications would have been more effective if treatment were to have begun within the first 72 hours of the onset of symptoms they may still help, -so says my doctor.
Long-term Outlook for Shingles Burning and Pain
I am also told that the nerve pain that I am experiencing, called "postherpetic neuralgia," may last for months, possibly years in acute cases!
However, the pain for me in the last few days even without the prescription medicines has been much less by a factor of I estimate 50-75%. I would even call my level of pain & discomfort "tolerable." But I am far from pain free at this point. I still get the occasional 'stabbing' pain that quickly diminishes. That is another notable symptom / shingles complaint but that too is becoming less and less frequent.
If you develop a painful, burning sensation anywhere on your body, especially the chest, ribs or back and whether you see red blisters or 'scalpmarks' or not, -see you doctor right away.
Shingles has a highly contagious stage and during this time you may transmit it to others whom have never had chicken pox nor been vaccinated against it. It remains a curious footnote that it was about 3 maybe 4 weeks ago, maybe it was at work I don't recall, -I overheard someone near me talking about some family members 'having chicken pox' right now. I had an 'ah-HA!' moment at the doctor's office.
This was possibly the vector, how I acquired shingles. -From a co-worker whom has been exposed to active chicken pox in his family and innocently passed it to me... It all quite makes sense now.