If you have had chickenpox as a child or have been exposed to the varicella zoster virus, the shingles virus remains dormant in your body for the rest of your life. Find out what causes herpes zoster and how it can be treated.
What causes herpes zoster?
The herpes zoster virus likes nerves, so it hides in the ganglion area where the rash was most severe when you had chickenpox or were exposed to the virus. When the immune system of the body is working smoothly, the activity stops, but when there is a problem with the immune system, the virus that was aiming for an opportunity is reactivated and the skin in charge of the ganglion is inflamed, causing pain and blisters.
I heard that stress can also cause shingles?
It is not known exactly how the latent virus is reactivated, but as mentioned above, weakened immunity is a major risk factor. Therefore, emotional stress and tumors that affect immunity are also involved.
In particular, cancer patients need to be cautious about developing shingles, as there are cases where the treatment affects the immune system as well as cancer. Recently, interest in autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis has increased, which is also a risk factor for herpes zoster. Old age and diabetes are also important risk factors, and in fact, many people should be careful about herpes zoster.
■What is the process from the initial symptoms to recovery?
Usually, 4 to 5 days before the rash appears, numbness or pain occurs in a specific part of the body. It is accompanied by a sharp stinging and sharp pain that feels like being cut with a knife.
At this time, swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, and muscle pain may be accompanied. Afterwards, a rash appears on the skin, mainly along the ganglia. In simple terms, it is easy to occur in the form of a band on the body, and it is also good to remember that it is rare that it occurs on both sides beyond the center of the body.
After about 3 days after the blisters form, pus is visible, and after about 10 days, scabs form. The scab will fall off over 2-3 weeks. Usually, recovery of pain and skin lesions is completed within a month, but there are cases of postherpetic neuralgia, which persists even after the disease has improved.
■What is the treatment for herpes zoster?
When the pain is severe, treatment that minimizes the inflammatory response and pain while preventing the spread of the virus is used in parallel. It is also important to prevent the skin from becoming more susceptible to secondary infection. Several drugs are used together, taking into account the severity, pattern, and side effects of pain. The reason for such active treatment is to prevent herpes zoster from leading to postherpetic neuralgia. If it leads to neuralgia after herpes zoster, treatment is focused on pain management rather than virus-related treatment. It is also good to remember that during this time, pain treatment is the number one priority.
How to prevent herpes zoster
It is known that the more aggressive treatment is received in the early stages of shingles, the less complications such as postherpetic neuralgia occur. Therefore, it is necessary to check if there are any precursor symptoms, and especially if the pain starts to occur on one side of the body or forehead, you should consult a doctor immediately.
In order to prevent it, it is necessary to be most vigilant about weakening the immune system. Stay away from stress with a regular life and a positive mindset, and avoid excessive diet and extreme fatigue. The shingles vaccine is known to lower the risk of neuralgia during outbreaks or post shingles. In particular, given the high risk of herpes zoster and its complications, the elderly are more recommended to vaccinate.
Shingles Check List = ▲ Aching all over the body and pain in parts of the body as if it were body aches ▲ Blisters in the painful area ▲ Sharp pain like cuts or burning with a knife at the blisters ▲ Chickenpox or target in the past Have had herpes before ▲ It seems that the immune system is weak due to old age or a disease. If this is the case, you may suspect herpes zoster, so it is better to consult a specialist.
<건국대병원 신경과 최교민 교수>