Shingles is a viral infection related to chickenpox; both are caused by varicella zoster. After an episode of chickenpox, the virus lodges in nerve fibres. Later, the virus can reactivate and form blisters, which are extremely painful and itchy. Scratching the blisters can spread the infection anywhere on the body, including the scalp. Remedies vary from home remedies and topical pain killers to vaccines that attack the virus.
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Avoid scratching the scalp or brushing the hair. This can cause scarring. Apply ice packs or cold compresses with vinegar -- one part vinegar to 32 parts water -- to the affected area, and use chickenpox remedies such as oatmeal baths and calamine lotion. Home remedies such as crushed mint leaves and even nail polish remover are recommended as home remedies, but their usefulness is not medically established.
Over the Counter Remedies
Antihistamines, such as benadryl, work well to relieve the itch, and pain killers, such as acetaminophens or Ibuprofen, help with the pain. Adding a topical solution, such as Burows lotion or Domebro T, will add to the effectiveness of cold compresses. There are also many creams and lotions, such as Terrasil, that are specifically advertised for shingles relief. These are not recommended to be used on blisters.
If pain is severe, narcotic pain killers may be required. Corticosteroids are often prescribed to boost immunity. To eradicate the virus, an antiviral drug such as acyclovir is often prescribed, particularly if the patient is older or has a severe or chronic pre-existing illness. This will assist in the prevention of complications such as neuralgia.
Scratching the blisters on the scalp can cause scars and permanent bald patches. Post herpetic neuralgia is the most serious complication and can lead to months or even years of chronic severe pain. For these reasons, seek medical treatment at the first sign of shingles.
Shingles is extremely rare in children and usually occurs in older adults. It is thought that it may be caused by stress, which is also thought to make the outbreak more serious. Psychological treatment may be prescribed. It is a serious problem in patients on anti-rejection drugs, or with acute or chronic leukemia.Though varicella is a herpes virus, it is not the same virus as genital herpes.
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