Caused by the same viral infection that causes chicken pox (herpes zoster), shingles afflicts almost 1 million people in the U.S. every year. How can you know if you have shingles? Here are five common symptoms.
The shingles virus most often rears its ugly head in the form of a shingles rash. The shingles rash is very similar to that of chickenpox, since the two conditions are caused by the same infection. It will typically consist of painful, fluid-filled blisters localized to one area of the body. This localization occurs because shingles affects localized nerve roots. This shingles rash most commonly occurs on the chest, back, neck, and buttocks, where clusters of these nerves reside.
While this is typically the most obvious symptom of a shingles outbreak, don't be fooled into thinking it's the only one. In addition, the majority of patients report feeling generally unwell or having flu-like symptoms in the days leading up to breaking out in this shingles rash.
In addition to their flu-like symptoms, many shingles patients report tingling or numbness just before the shingles rash develops. These sensations typically occur in the same area of the body that the shingles rash later affects.
Not only that, but these sensations can also result in extreme sensitivity to touch. Patients often also report itching and burning. It's believed that these sensations are the result of the shingles virus affecting nerve roots, which in turn respond to any stimulation, even on a microscopic level. For patients, it can seem like they're experiencing burning or tingling for no reason at all.
This is typically one of the most common shingles symptoms that gets mistaken for something else. Most people can attribute nausea to something they ate or drank. Unfortunately, this symptom progresses to the point of being flu-like, though vomiting is a relatively uncommon result of this nausea.
Instead, patients often report sharp stomach pains, diarrhea, and a general feeling of lasting queasiness. One important thing to note is that unlike the flu, nausea that precedes a shingles outbreak typically doesn't come with a fever. This is a key differentiator in these two conditions.
If the shingles virus spreads to the nerves that connect to a patient's eyes, vision impairments may occur. They may manifest in the form of extreme sensitivity to light, which can be painful and might be mistaken for symptoms of a migraine.
In more severe cases, the shingles virus may even cause conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. If these symptoms develop, it's important to seek medical attention immediately. If eye symptoms caused by shingles are left untreated, they may cause permanent vision impairment. While blindness as a result of shingles is rare, it's still a possibility that nobody should ignore.
This is yet another symptom that patients frequently mistake for the flu. In the days before a shingles outbreak, there are typically cases of extreme, unexplained fatigue.
Unfortunately, the most common response to this symptom is to increase caffeine intake, which only dehydrates the body and intensifies symptoms of fatigue. In rare cases, patients have experienced confusion and even temporary memory loss during this period of extreme fatigue. Like each of the symptoms described above, whether it turns out to be the flu or not, extreme fatigue should be addressed by a doctor.
While shingles treatment is available, it's important to pay attention to the symptoms so treatment can begin as soon as possible. Now that you understand just how tricky shingles can be, make sure you don't ignore the symptoms.
If you're concerned about a shingles rash and you suspect it may be shingles, don't hesitate to contact SE Dermatology Specialists today. You can request an appointment through our "book now" function.