Shingles On Face

What to Do When You Have Shingles on Your Face?

You may experience shingles on your face due to a virus that causes a painful skin rash. As it is an infection of a nerve you may also experience blisters which are equally uncomfortable. The disease is caused by a virus of the herpes family which is called Varizella-Zoster-Virus (VZV) and usually occurs in elderly people or patients with a weak immune system (e.g. through stress or illnesses such as AIDS). The virus is often transfused during childhood where it causes chicken pox. Thus the VZV infection is a later outbreak caused by the same virus which has been reactivated.


Virus

The virus that causes the shingles on your face is called Varizella-Zoster-Virus (VZV) or also known as Human-Herpes-Virus (HHV-3). Although they are related to the Herpes Simplex-Virus, they have a different DNA. It is estimated that around 90% of people in the western world above the age of 14 carry the virus through the chicken pox. It is very unusual that the virus comes back into action in healthy bodies, and it is mostly the elderly and weak who suffer from a recurring outbreak. While in very rare cases the virus can be life-threatening, it is extremely unlikely to kill the carrier. If you only experience shingles on your face there is nothing to worry about, but it is usually the side infections that become dangerous.

Infections

The first infection that occurs in children (chicken pox) is extremely contagious. People who have had chicken pox as a child are usually immune to the virus for the rest of their lives while they still carry it in their body. The infection that occurs later in life is only due to the fact that the immune system is weakened. Thus, the shingles on your face are usually not the first infection but more a 'revival' of the virus that caused your chicken pox. This later infection is not as contagious as the first one as the only contagious element is inside the blisters. It is also not contagious for people who have had the chicken pox and are healthy otherwise.


Symptoms

The first symptom is usually a redness of the skin which then turns into tiny blisters or shingles on your face, neck and chest. These can certainly spread further on your body later on. In most cases, the shingles will fill up with lymph, pop open and then dry out- and that's the end of it.

However, this sounds simpler than it is because the rash can be very painful and the infection of the nerve can also cause significant pain. Although the whole process of blisters filling, popping and drying can be over within 2-3 weeks, they may leave scars (just like chicken pox can). This often happens through secondary bacterial infections that can occur on top of the viral infection.

Shingles on your face can cause temporary numbness or loss of taste. These symptoms usually disappear gradually and are not of permanent nature. In rare cases the infection can occur inside the ear which is a little more dangerous as it affects your equilibrium sense. The most dangerous forms of shingles are those that attack the entire nervous system which can only happen if your immune system is weakened through a fatal disease such as AIDS, Leukaemia and other types of severe cancer. Only in these cases can the virus kill.

Therapy

The virus can be fought with virustatics only if the treatment commences at the first signs of outbreak. Often you realise the infection when the rash and shingles on your face are already present, and this treatment is usually not effective.

A very common form of therapy is through tablets containing Aciclovir, Brivudine, Famciclovir or Valaciclovir. In severe cases where the virus attacks eyes, ears or even bone marrow, an intravenous therapy is necessary. The treatment also involves medication to ease the pain, but they are not always effective as the pain is acute. There is also the possibility of electric therapies and alternative remedies.

To prevent the disease from breaking out you can get a Zostavax vaccination which has been legalized in the US in 2006. It reduces the probability of infection by 50% and if it still hits you, it may cause less pain. The vaccination is usually recommended for people over the age of 60. In many other countries the vaccination is given to babies in their first year to prevent the transmission and outbreak of chicken pox altogether.