What Cause Shingles: Searching For What Causes Shingles?

Usually we do not ask what causes shingles until you or someone you love learns they have shingles.

When my doctor walked in to the examination room, his first question was "How long have you had that rash on your forehead?"

When I said "Just a few days", he asked if my scalp hurt above it. I told him that there was a tingling sensation but it was not very painful.

Understanding A Shingles Diagnosis

My family doctor made this single word diagnosis --"Shingles".

He explained how it is caused by the chicken pox virus, which can be dormant for decades after you first have it, and can be quite painful, even when treated.

I had all kinds of questions about shingles, and he answered many of them. Others answers to shingles questions we dug out later by doing a Google search.

In fact, my wife already had lots of shingles information by the time I returned home from our local pharmacy where I had picked up the prescribed shingles medications the doctor had ordered. Beyond the word shingles you might try a Google search of your own, using phrases like these:

  • what cause shingles,
  • shingles symptom rash,
  • shingles treatments,
  • shingles symptoms,
  • shingles contagious,
  • medical treatment for shingles,
  • shingles disease,
  • shingles skin disease,
  • shingles diagnosis,
  • shingles rash,
  • shingles disease contagious,
  • shingles chicken pox,
  • shingles treatment,
  • shingles virus,
  • shingles relief,
  • shingles pain,
  • shingles pain relief

Medical Information About Shingles From Our Web Search

One of the articles resulting from her shingles Google Search was FDA Consumer, the official magazine of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

From this article we gleaned some basic shingles information. If we had done an interview using our questions and answers from FDA Consumer, it would have gone like this.

What Is The Origin of Term Shingles?

FDA Consumer: In Italy, shingles also is called St. Anthony's fire, a fitting name for a disease that has bedeviled saints and sinners throughout the ages.

Shingles' peculiar name derives from the Latin cingulum, which means girdle or belt. This is because of the pattern shingles often takes in its appearance on the body.

Caused by the same varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox, shingles (also called herpes zoster) most commonly occurs in older people. Treatment was once limited to wet compresses and aspirin.

Today's treatments provide a variety of ways to shorten the duration of a shingles outbreak and to control the associated pain. Sometimes, however, shingles leads to a chronic painful condition called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) that can be difficult to treat.

Learning About What Causes Shingles

FDA Consumer: Initial Symptoms: After an attack of chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus retreats to nerve cells in the body, where it may lie dormant for decades.

But under certain conditions, usually related to aging or disease, the virus can reactivate and begin to reproduce. Once activated, the virus travels along the path of a nerve to the skin's surface, where it causes shingles.

Shingles' symptoms may be vague and nonspecific at first. People with shingles may experience numbness, tingling, itching, or pain before the classic rash appears.

In the pre-eruption stage, diagnosis may be difficult, and the pain can be so severe that it may be mistaken for pleurisy, kidney stones, gallstones, appendicitis, or even a heart attack, depending on the location of the affected nerve.

A Shingles Rash Prompts A Shingles Diagnosis

FDA Consumer: The Outbreak: Pain may come first, but when the migrating virus finally reaches the skin--usually the second to the fifth day after the first symptoms--the rash tells all. The virus infects the skin cells and creates a painful, red rash that resembles chickenpox.

Doctors can distinguish shingles from chickenpox (or dermatitis or poison ivy) by the way the spots are distributed. Since shingles occurs in an area of the skin that is supplied by sensory fibers of a single nerve--called a dermatome--the rash usually appears in a well-defined band on one side of the body, typically the torso; or on one side of the face, around the nose and eyes.

If a diagnosis is in doubt, lab tests can confirm the presence of the virus.

The rash usually begins as clusters of small bumps that soon develop into fluid-filled blisters (vesicles). In turn, the blisters fill with pus (pustules), break open, and form crusty scabs.

In about four or five weeks, the disease runs its course, the scabs drop off, the skin heals, and the pain fades. Most healthy individuals make an uneventful, if not particularly pleasant, recovery.

Not everyone sails through without incident, however. Although it's difficult to resist scratching the itchy rash, it's better to keep hands off, as the damaged skin may develop a bacterial infection requiring antibiotic treatment.

After such an infection, the skin may be left with significant scarring, some of it serious enough to require plastic surgery.

The Shingles Chicken Pox Connection

FDA Consumer: Chickenpox Redux: Like other members of the herpes family (such as the herpes simplex viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes), the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox never completely leaves the body.

Most people don't get chickenpox a second time. However, anyone who has had chickenpox has the potential to develop shingles, because after recovery from chickenpox, the virus settles in the nerve roots.

Researchers are not sure exactly what triggers the virus to spontaneously start reproducing in nerve cells later in life and reappear as shingles. However, they do know the virus may reactivate when the immune system is weak.

Certain factors can cause the immune system to let down its guard. Age is one of them. Immunity declines with aging, so susceptibility to disease increases.

The incidence of shingles and of resulting PHN rises with increasing age. More than 50 percent of cases occur in people over 60.

Older people may also lack exposure to children with chickenpox, thereby losing an opportunity to boost immunity and prevent virus reactivation. Although most people have only one attack of shingles, about 4 percent will have further attacks.

Shingles Medications Approved Since My Diagnosis

Taken from "An Unwelcome Encore" written by Evelyn Zamula on the topic of what causes shingles.

I could not locate the original article but did notice there are new medications available since my doctor diagnosed me as having shingles.

I could not locate the original article but did notice there are new medications available since my doctor diagnosed me as having shingles.

On Nov. 17, 2009 the FDA had a press release entitled FDA Approves New Drug Treatment for Long-Term Pain Relief after Shingles Attacks.

The medication is Qutenza (capsaicin) 8% patch, a medicated skin patch that relieves the pain of post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), a serious complication that can occur after a bout with shingles.

Since these types of articles may not be available, just go to the website and enter the term Shingles in the search box.

Just after my bout with shingles there was this announcement: FDA Licenses New Vaccine to Reduce Older Americans' Risk of Shingles.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed Zostavax, on May 25, 2006, a vaccine that reduces the risk of shingles (herpes zoster) for use in people 60 years of age and older.