CareNow® - September 26, 2023

You’ve undoubtedly heard about shingles, but like many people, you may be curious about exactly what it is and how it’s different from chickenpox. Whether you’ve had shingles before or not, it’s important to know where to go for treatment.

Experiencing the discomfort of shingles can be a cause for concern, leaving you wondering about the best course of action for treatment.

Urgent care facilities offer convenient healthcare options for a range of conditions, but does urgent care treat shingles? Let's dive into the details of shingles, its treatment, and when seeking urgent care might be a good idea.

What are shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful and contagious rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes chickenpox.

After an initial bout of chickenpox or a vaccination, the VZV virus can lie dormant in sensory nerves. However, factors such as stress or a weakened immune system can reactivate the virus, leading to the development of shingles later in life.

The rash typically presents as a band or circle of small blisters on a red base and can cause a bruised sensation accompanied by mild fever.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Recognizing the signs of shingles is important to getting relief quickly. Shingles can manifest through a range of symptoms, and early diagnosis gives you the opportunity to manage the condition as best as possible.

Here are the key symptoms of shingles to watch for:

  • Tingling or burning sensation: Shingles often begins with an unusual tingling or burning feeling in a localized area of the skin. This sensation can precede other symptoms and serve as an early indicator.
  • Rash and fluid-filled blisters: A distinct rash emerges, characterized by redness and fluid-filled blisters. This rash typically appears in a band or cluster, frequently occurring on one side of the body, such as the torso or face.
  • Varied levels of pain: Pain is a hallmark of shingles, which can manifest in different degrees of intensity. From mild discomfort to sharp, stabbing sensations, the pain can be accompanied by heightened sensitivity to touch, leading to itching or aching.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Some individuals with shingles may experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, and fatigue. These symptoms can further complicate the overall discomfort caused by the condition.

Getting medical attention quickly plays a vital role in managing shingles and minimizing potential complications. If you suspect you might be experiencing any of these symptoms or are concerned about shingles, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. By recognizing these symptoms early on, you can take proactive steps toward effective treatment and relief.

Should I go to urgent care for shingles?

When it comes to where to get care for shingles, the decision depends on the severity of your symptoms. If you experience a painful, blistering rash accompanied by a fever, it's smart to get medical attention immediately.

Urgent care clinics, like CareNow®, can provide convenient timely evaluation and treatment options for shingles, which allows you to manage and treat your symptoms quickly.

If you notice sudden and extreme weakness in your face, arm, or leg on one side of your body, difficulty swallowing, confusion, difficulty talking, or vision changes, you should go straight to an emergency room. These symptoms could indicate a potential complication known as postherpetic neuralgia.

Are chickenpox and shingles the same thing?

Shingles and chickenpox are related, but they are not the same thing. They are both caused by the varicella-zoster virus, but they manifest in different ways and at different times in a person's life.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It typically affects young children and is characterized by a widespread itchy, blister-like rash that appears first on the chest, back, and face, and then spreads over the entire body.

Chickenpox can be serious, especially in certain populations such as babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. Before the vaccine was available, chickenpox led to hospitalizations and even deaths. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body for years.

Shingles, on the other hand, is the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus later in life. It can occur decades after the initial chickenpox infection. Shingles is characterized by an itchy and often painful rash that presents on one side of the body, typically in a band or cluster.

The rash consists of small blisters called vesicles and may be accompanied by fever. Fortunately, the rash cannot be spread; however, the virus can be passed on via contact with the affected area if blisters are present.

While shingles typically lasts around 10 days, some people may develop a persistent pain called post-herpetic neuralgia, which can last for months or even years.

Vaccines are available to prevent both chickenpox and shingles, with the latter being recommended for adults aged 50 and older.

How common is shingles?

Shingles is a relatively common condition, especially among those who have had chickenpox in the past. Anyone who has had chickenpox carries the varicella-zoster virus, making them susceptible to shingles.

It's estimated that around one in three people in the US will develop shingles during their lifetime. While shingles can affect people of all ages, it’s more common in older adults and those with weakened immune systems.

Treatment for shingles

Seeking treatment quickly for shingles is essential to manage the condition effectively. If you suspect you have shingles, it's recommended to consult a physician within 72 hours of the first sign of the rash.

Starting antiviral drugs early can help alleviate symptoms and reduce the duration of the outbreak. If treatment is delayed beyond 72 hours, options may include over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen to manage discomfort.

In some cases, a physician may prescribe a numbing cream or more powerful painkillers if symptoms worsen. Measures such as cool baths or compresses may also help relieve itching.

Understanding shingles, its treatment options, and when to seek urgent care is crucial for managing this uncomfortable condition. If you suspect you are dealing with shingles, consider visiting your local CareNow® urgent care clinic for quick and convenient care.

Each of our more than 225 locations throughout the country is open after hours and on the weekend to serve you when you need it most. We also offer a Web Check-In® feature that allows you to wait from anywhere.

We’re also proud to share that we’ve received the title of Accredited Urgent Care Center from the Urgent Care Association (UCA), which showcases our dedication to patient care.

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