Sometimes when people get a rash on their legs or arm it can easily be mistaken for poison ivy or some other type of skin disease. However, if the rash doesn’t itch or only spreads in one direction, chances are it isn’t poison ivy, but could be shingles. Although shingles usually don’t attack arms, it still occurs.
What is Shingles
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, affects roughly one million Americans each year, according to recent statistics from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Seniors 60 and older are more prone to shingles than younger people. The skin disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chicken pox. More than ten percent of people who’ve had chicken pox will contract shingles in their adult lifetime. As a person ages, he’s more vulnerable because his immune system weakens.
How Shingles Typically Occurs
Shingles is a virus from chicken pox that lies inactive in the body until something such a weakened immune system or severe stress reactivates it. Once the virus is reactivated it moves along the nerve paths and destroys the path as it travels. It travels to the skin, erupting into rashes. Besides a blistering rash and tingling, burning pain, shingles makes the skin extremely sensitive.
Most Common Body Areas for Shingles
Typically, shingles occurs on backs and legs. The worst case is when it breaks out on the face as this can cause damage to an eye or even the brain. Shingles can also break out in the mouth and ears. In rare cases it breaks out on arms.
Symptoms of Shingles
It’s important to recognize the signs of shingles because the quicker a patient is treated the faster it’s arrested.
Tingling or burning pain – One of the initial signs of shingles is tingling or burning pain on one side of the body.
Red patches – Next red patches form on the skin.
Small blisters – Small blisters, resembling chickenpox, appear after the red patches. These blisters break up and create small ulcers that start to dry and form crusts. In roughly two to three weeks the crusts fall off.
Additional Symptoms – Besides general discomfort, additional symptoms may range from chills, abdominal pain, fever, dropping eyelids, hearing loss, headache, genital lesions, loss of eye motion, joint pain, swollen glands, and vision difficulties to taste problems.
Shingles ordinarily clears up on its own, although patients may need treatment for relieving pain. Some of the antiviral medications doctors prescribe include acyclovir, famciclovir, desciclovir, valacyclovir and penciclovir. It’s important that a medication begin within 24 hours of feeling the initial symptoms of pain or burning before blisters surface. Usually drugs are given as pills; however sometimes patients receive them through intravenously (IV).
Pain Relievers for Shingles
Patients are usually given strong anti-inflammatory medicines (corticosteroids) such as prednisone for reducing swelling and helping with pain. Cool wet compresses may also help in reducing pain, as well as lotions and soothing baths such as oatmeal or starch baths. Bed rest is recommended if there’s a fever.
Finally, the best medicine is a good attitude, trying not to dwell on the pain. Although it’s painful, the good news is that a Shingles patient can’t transfer a blister to another part of the body as they can with a poison ivy rash. Also, a shingles rash on the arm doesn’t run the risk of the virus damaging an eye, ear or other facial features.
Published originally on Suite 101.