What is shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection that affects many parts of the body. The particular virus is called the herpes varicella-zoster virus. The varicella portion of the virus causes chickenpox. After the chickenpox has cleared, the virus becomes dormant in specific nerve roots of the brain. If the virus is reactivated later in life, the virus results in shingles. A reduction in one’s immunity can cause the reactivation. Such things that can cause a reduction in your immunity include aging, UV exposure, stress, organ transplantation, etc. Shingles is only contagious to people who have never had chickenpox.

What are the signs and symptoms of shingles?

Shingles usually causes a vesicular skin rash on one side of the body, which is more painful and itchy than that of chickenpox. The face, eyelids, scalp, tip of the nose, ears, back and abdomen are commonly affected. Before the rash begins, there is usually a prodromal stage of general malaise, fever, chills and pain. The skin rash presents as small fluid-filled blisters that take around five days to break open and up to four weeks to heal. Approximately 20 per cent of those affected by shingles experience post-herpetic neuralgia. This stage is characterized by pain that continues for months or even years after the initial blisters heal.

How does shingles affect the eyes?

The symptoms of an ocular shingles infection can mimic those of many other eye conditions. It is virtually impossible for you to know if you are suffering from a shingles infection to the eyeball or eyelid. The eye can be red, inflamed, blurred or feel irritated. It is important, if you are experiencing these symptoms, or have been previously diagnosed with shingles on your face, that you visit your Doctor of Optometry. Corneal ulcers may develop during a shingles infection that could potentially lead to scars. The more severe and chronic the infection, the greater the risk of developing corneal scar tissue that can cause permanent vision loss. If your family physician suspects you suffer from shingles, it is imperative to seek the care of your local Doctor of Optometry to rule out any eye involvement.

How do you treat shingles?

Herpes zoster or shingles is typically treated with oral antiviral medications. Initiating treatment as soon as possible reduces the risk of complications from shingles. Topical creams can help alleviate the discomfort from the skin rash. If the eye is affected, anti-inflammatory drops may also be used. Treatment, however, does not kill the virus, but rather, forces the virus into dormancy again. Reactivation of shingles can occur at any time in the future.