Shingles: What triggers this painful, burning rash? – . Health Blog

If you're like 95% of American adults, you had chickenpox as a kid. Before the United States began its widespread vaccination program in 1995, there were approximately four million cases of chickenpox each year. As a result, most of the people suffered from infection with this highly contagious virus and its itchy full body rash.

Unlike many childhood viruses, the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, is not cleared from the body at the end of the illness. Instead, it hangs around, takes up residence, and sometimes slumbered in your nerves for decades, with the immune system keeping it in check. For some people it lives there harmlessly for the rest of their lives. However, in other cases, the virus may suddenly pop up and recur. This time it occurs as another condition known as shingles.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Like chickenpox, shingles cause a blistered rash, but this time it generally appears as a painful band around one side of your chest or on one side of your face. The first symptom for many people is pain or a burning sensation in the affected area. You may also have a fever, headache, and fatigue. Along with the rash and other temporary symptoms, shingles can also cause uncomfortable, long-lasting, and sometimes permanent complications such as skin infections, nerve pain in the area where the rash appeared, or even loss of vision.

What causes shingles in some people and not in others?

Experts don't quite understand this. One theory suggests that shingles occurs when your immune system loses its ability to keep the virus in check.

After getting chickenpox, your immune system can recognize the varicella zoster virus thanks to specialized cells in the immune system called B and T cells that remember the virus and can attack it quickly. Factors that weaken the immune system increase the risk of developing shingles. These include

  • certain diseases such as HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), cancer, or autoimmune diseases.
  • Medicines that suppress your immune system, such as cancer drugs, steroids, drugs to treat autoimmune diseases, and drugs that are given to people who are going to have an organ transplant to keep their body from rejecting them.
  • Age-related changes: Shingles can occur in people of all ages, including children, but is most common in people over the age of 60. Your immune system can weaken as you get older. While it's not entirely clear why this happens, it may be due to a decrease in T cells. Some experts also believe that with age, the bone marrow produces fewer stem cells, the precursors to T cells and B cells. With fewer of these white blood soldiers in the army, the immune system may not be as responsive to invaders as it used to be.
  • Certain Genetic Factors: Previous studies have shown that families can experience an increased susceptibility to shingles, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What Can You Do To Prevent Shingles?

While you may not be able to control certain factors that can trigger shingles, there are strategies you can use to prevent shingles. The most important thing is vaccination. Research shows that the shingles vaccine Shingrix is ​​90% effective in preventing an outbreak of shingles. Even if you develop shingles after vaccination, Shingrix greatly reduces the risk of persistent pain in the affected area called post-therapeutic neuralgia.

In addition to getting vaccinated, it's always a good idea to take steps to keep your body healthy, such as: B. choosing healthy foods, staying active, and getting adequate sleep. It's not clear if healthy lifestyle habits like this one can prevent shingles, but even if they don't, they're worth it as they will benefit your body in many other ways.

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