No truth to old wives' tale about shingles
IT IS not uncommon to hear an old wives' tale about shingles - that it is a "creeping snake" which must be killed before it wraps itself around the patient's body and suffocates him when its head finally meets its tail.
But the truth cannot be further from that, said Dr Tan Kian Teo, a consultant dermatologist at Skin Physicians, a Singapore Medical Group Associates clinic.
"We all know that there is no snake in the body," said Dr Tan, adding that shingles usually affects a segment of skin on only one side of the body.
"It is simply a viral infection that affects the nerve and the skin it supplies," he said.
Shingles is caused by the Varicella zoster virus, more commonly known as the chicken pox virus, which lies dormant in the nervous system following a chicken pox infection.
The virus is reactivated later in life, particularly when one's immunity is low, said Dr Tan. Being under high stress could also lay the foundation for a shingles outbreak.
Typically, one telltale sign of shingles is pain, a burning or tingling sensation over a certain part of the body, which is sometimes accompanied by a red rash.
Fluid-filled blisters also tend to form over the affected skin area, while other symptoms include fever with chills and headaches, and an upset stomach or abdominal pain.
While the condition is not life-threatening, it can come with days or even months of pain.
The National Skin Centre treats about 150 to 200 patients every year.
But one group of people more vulnerable to the infection is the elderly, noted Dr Tan.
This is because shingles becomes more common with age, he explained, with up to 10 in 1,000 people who are over 80 years old prone to being affected.
Even so, Dr Tan warned that young people can be susceptible to shingles too. This is because shingles can be spread by direct contact with the fluid from blisters.
He added that it is best to treat shingles early, which "lessens the severity of the disease and shortens the duration".
If not taken care of properly, complications can arise from the infection, including post-herpetic neuralgia (recurring pain even after the skin has healed), pneumonia, hearing problems and vision loss, he noted.
"Shingles is usually very painful and the pain may persist even when the skin lesions have healed," said Dr Tan.
"This can affect the quality of your life during and even after the episode of shingles."