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English: Shingles blisters Day 6, Characterist...

English: Shingles blisters Day 6, Characteristic purple colour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, I hurt. What is it? Left part of liver? Stomach? Spleen? It has to be kidney-related. For the past 20 years, every time I get sick it is – after all, I’ve had 3 transplants as a CKD (chronic kidney disease) patient.

But maybe it’s just gas. There aren’t any bruises showing, despite my insistence that my husband look more closely at my side and back. People have gone to the Emergency Department for that – but I sure don’t want to, so I’ll just sit here in pain and worry a bit more. Only it’s getting harder to breathe. And there aren’t any doctors here that can care for me, if it’s kidney-related.

Finally, when I can no longer stand the agony, I contact my nephrologist, 9 hours away. By now a large blister-like spot has appeared, along with what looks like dry skin. And it itches. They tell me it is Shingles, and I am so relieved. I am not going to die from this!! It’s not kidney-related!

The skin disease shingles, or the herpes zoster, typically appears in the older population or those with suppressed immune systems, research suggests. When I came down with it, I my initial search resulted in a combination of both types of shingles (roofing shingles and the skin condition) in Google. I obviously had to improve my search methods and continue on outside of and beyond said search engine and ask direct questions to various doctors. In this post I will attempt to explain why this skin disease is confusing, what symptoms one might experience, and what treatments I have found (whether or not they work depends on the individual, and you will need to check with your doctor before trying them).

The confusing and/or opposing information I found has made this terribly painful disease also curiously frustrating. Here are a couple of reasons why:

1) To contract shingles, one must have first had chicken pox (because c.p. lies dormant in the body, and shingles is the recurrence of it) BUT if you haven’t had chicken pox you definitely do NOT want to be around the person who has shingles.

2) Shingles is “highly contagious” yet if you have had the chicken pox and are a healthy person (not elderly or immuno-suppressed) and the ill person keeps their shingles covered, you are unlikely to catch it from them. (This does not sound ‘highly contagious’ – one could catch a cold easier than this!)

3) Some contend that stress can cause shingles; shingles themselves cause more stress; how on earth to get rid of them, then?? (No wonder I still have them, after getting a refill of the antibiotics)

Signs/Symptoms of Shingles

  • Pain/tightness in one side (I felt like I had been punched in my upper left ribcage)
  • Pain slowly extending a bit down
  • Pain slowly extending a bit toward abdomen
  • Pain slowly extending a bit toward back until entire left side felt black and blue
  • Absolutely no outward sign of anything – research suggested gas to something fatal
  • After a few days a spot appeared (mine looked like a blister or dry spot) next to ‘dry skin’
  • The next morning a bunch of spots that sort of itched and sort of burned

Remember how badly the chicken pox made your skin itch, and how you just wanted to scratch it raw? Shingles is worse. Sometimes it burns. (My brother-in-law compared it to a blow torch.) Sometimes it feels like a recently used punching bag must feel. And when it itches it hurts too much to touch anyway, typically. Especially in the beginning. Even clothing.

Shingles can appear on the face, as well. Pay close attention if this happens, because if it gets in the eye, it can cause blindness. See your physician immediately.

Treatments – always check with your doctor first

  • My regular doctor put me on Acyclovir
  • A doctor put me on steroids, too, which is controversial; my regular doc took me off
  • Percoset did not help my pain, as it was the nerve endings
  • Ice packs, when I could stand the pressure, eased the nerve endings
  • Once you can stand pressure, it actually feels good to lie on that side
  • Ask your doctor for a Rx for something to numb the nerve endings; that helps
  • I read that eating pears/drinking pear juice helps; I have been doing it; can’t tell
  • Most agree to keep cream/lotion off the area so that it can heal (it needs to get scaly)

If you or someone you know has or contracts Shingles, I hope this article will help. My Papa, a war veteran, pronounced this condition to be the most painful thing he has ever experienced. Imagine that!

If you have any tips to add, please do! We are all in this world together; why not help one another out!

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