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If you have a rash that you think could be shingles, speak to your pharmacist at Star Pharmacy. As part of the NHS Pharmacy First Service, we can provide helpful advice and effective treatment for shingles without you needing to book a GP appointment. We also offer shingles vaccinations privately.

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What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus and affects adults who have previously had chickenpox. A shingles rash results from the activation of dormant chickenpox virus particles, often many decades after the initial chickenpox infection.

Shingles is contagious. This means the virus can spread through direct contact with fluid from blisters which can then trigger chickenpox in people who are susceptible to it.

It can take about four weeks for a shingles rash to fully heal. You may notice that your skin is painful for weeks, even after the rash has gone, but this should improve over time.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Shingles usually presents itself as a very painful and uncomfortable rash affecting one side of the body, or over one side of your face, and can include the eye. Sometimes, the pain can persist, even after the initial rash has healed, sometimes lasting for years.

The symptoms of shingles can include:

  • Rash – within a few days of feeling initial sensation changes to the skin, a red, blistering rash typically appears, most commonly on the torso, although it can also affect the face, eyes, or other areas.
  • Pain – the onset of shingles often starts with pain or discomfort. This can feel like a burning or tingling sensation, or you may experience numbness, as well as itchy skin in the affected area. The pain is usually on one side of the face or body as the infection follows specific nerve pathways. This pain can then continue when the rash has appeared, in the vicinity of the rash and, in some cases, continues long after the rash has disappeared. The intensity of the pain can vary from very mild to severe. It can be dull and throbbing or can include occasional sharp stabbing pains.
  • Blisters filled with fluid – the rash can be accompanied by fluid, blood, or pus-filled blisters which can be very painful. The blisters may burst or ooze and eventually crust over.
  • Itching – the rash and blisters may cause itching.
  • Skin sensitivity – the affected skin can become very sensitive to touch and even the lightest touch or breeze may cause discomfort.
  • Flu-like symptoms – some individuals with shingles may experience flu-like symptoms, including chills, fever, fatigue, and headache.
  • Eye problems – if shingles occur around the eye, it can lead to redness, pain, and vision problems.

What causes shingles?

Shingles is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox. Once a person has recovered from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in nerve cells. In some cases, many years later, the virus can reactivate, leading to the development of shingles.

The exact cause of shingles is not always clear, but common triggers for the virus can be:

  • A weakened immune system- This can result from various factors such as illness or medications that suppress the immune system.
  • Aging- The risk of developing shingles increases with age due to an age-related reduction of the effectiveness of the immune system.
  • Stress- High levels of physical or emotional stress can weaken the immune system and potentially trigger the reactivation of the dormant virus.

How to treat shingles symptoms at home

If you have shingles, there are ways you can treat your symptoms at home:

  • Take paracetamol to ease the pain if required
  • Keep the rash clean and dry – this will reduce the risk of infection
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Apply a cool compress to the affected area throughout the day
  • Do not let any dressings or plasters stick to the rash
  • Avoid using antibiotic creams as doing so can slow the healing process

Do I need the shingles vaccine?

The shingles vaccine can help protect against the shingles virus. The NHS recommends this vaccine for those who may be at higher risk from shingles, such as those turning 65 on or after 1st September 2023, people aged 70 to 79, and people aged 50 and over who have a severely weakened immune system.

If you are at a higher risk of developing shingles, the virus is more likely to cause serious problems. Getting the vaccine can reduce your chances of contracting shingles, as well as lowering your risk of experiencing further problems if you do get the virus.

You can receive the shingles vaccination privately at Star Pharmacy. Come and speak to us, or give us a call to find out more.

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