Shingles is another name for herpes zoster ("zoster"), a painful, blistering rash that is caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster) and occurs only in people who once had chickenpox. By the time the last chickenpox scab falls off, the varicella-zoster virus begins to move up into the nerves, where it lies dormant inside sensory nerve cells adjacent to the spinal column. Some time later--many years, perhaps--those nerves become activated, causing the virus to move down the nerve endings, producing a rash that wraps from the back of the body to the front, in bands or belts called "dermatomes."
Identification and Location
The shingles rash usually appears a few days after the initial symptoms, which may include a tingling, itching, burning and sensitivity to touch, as well as redness in the affected areas on one side of the body only. The rash usually appears on the trunk of the body, but it may also occasionally present on the face and neck. The rash of shingles, although it may resemble chickenpox eruptions, may not cause as much itching as a chickenpox rash; however, it may be painful.
Soaking in a bath to which is added an uncooked oatmeal or a commercial colloidal oatmeal product (like Aveeno oatmeal bath) may provide some relief from itching. Cornstarch or baking soda sprinkled into the bathwater may also be soothing to the skin. To target specific areas, a compress made by adding 1 part vinegar to 32 parts water may allay some of the itching and burning symptoms of the rash. After removing the compress, use an over-the-counter antibiotic on the open sores. In addition, wearing looser clothing that is made of cotton may help keep itching and discomfort to a minimum.
To reduce the risk of infection, avoid scratching a shingles rash. If a shingles rash appears in the trigeminal nerve dermatome region across the eye, it is important to see a doctor before starting home treatments. Blindness is a complication that may occur rapidly from untreated shingles in the eye, due to blisters that develop and cause scarring on the cornea.