Shingles is an infection caused by varicella-zoster virus. This is the virus that causes chicken pox. Once a patient recovers from chicken pox, the virus stays dormant in the nerves. Conditions such as stress and weakened immunity can reactivate the virus. The reactivated virus causes shingles rather than chicken pox.
Symptoms of shingles mostly appear on localized areas rather than being widespread all over the body. Affected areas usually lie directly above the nerve bundles in which shingles virus hides. The chest, face and torso are mostly affected. Any body area can, however, be affected. See shingles on fingers pictures and pictures of shingles rash on legs.
There is no cure for shingles. Treatment options are available, mainly to improve shingles symptoms and shorten the recovery period. Some patients are able to recover without treatment but risk complications of shingles such as post-herpetic neuralgia and recurring shingles. This article discusses symptoms of shingles on legs as well as causes and how it is treated.
Can you get shingles on your leg?
It has been mentioned that shingles mostly occurs on the chest and trunk. So can you get shingles on your leg? It is not only possible to get shingles on the upper leg but also on the ankles.
You may be wondering how it is that the shingles virus is able to survive in the body without being attacked by immune cells. Viruses are, for what they actually are, extremely cunning. Outside of living cells, viruses are merely nonliving particles which cannot replicate or survive for that matter.
Once inside living cells, viruses copy their genetic information in the host’s DNA. Next time the host is making new cells, it inevitably makes copies of the virus too. The many new viruses made destroy the host cell on their way out. This process only happens when a viral infection is active, such as when one has chicken pox.
It is believed that the shingles virus hides in the dorsal root ganglia after recovery from chicken pox. These are bundles of nerves that extend from the spinal cord. They make it possible for signals from the skin to reach the brain and vice versa.
Immune cells do not patrol the dorsal root ganglia. Varicella-zoster virus can therefore hide there in a dormant state without being detected. When dormant, the virus makes a few viral proteins and therefore doesn’t destroy nerve cells. More research is still needed to uncover how a dormant shingles virus works on the molecular level.
An active shingles virus destroys skin cells which then causes symptoms like pain, rash and blistering. Sometimes, the varicella-zoster virus can invade organs such as the lungs in children who have chicken pox.
The dorsal root ganglia extend to legs, so that information can be sent to the brain. This is why it is not uncommon to get a shingles rash on the leg.
Signs and symptoms of shingles on leg
What does shingles feel like? When triggered, the shingles virus reaches for the skin. It is for this reason that patients often experience itching, burning or tingling as the virus leaves nerve fibers. Early symptoms of shingles on leg can go on for 2-3 days.
Lesions appear by the third day. At first, the lesions manifest as small bumps which later develop into fluid-filled blisters. Eventually, the blisters will rupture and crust over before following the normal healing process.
Pain is a defining shingles symptom. It can start before blisters appear and sometimes persist for several weeks. How long does it take for shingles to heal? Shingles takes less than 5 weeks to completely clear up. This period can be reduced with medications. Mild pain is very common and usually clears up as the shingles outbreak improves. Post-herpetic neuralgia describes a condition where shingles pain lasts much longer and becomes intolerable. It is not known how exactly the condition occurs. Some experts think disorderly growth of nerve fibers that were destroyed during the outbreak is to blame.
Can shingles cause severe headaches? Early symptoms of shingles may include fever, malaise and fatigue. Patients can also develop headaches but not very severe ones. If you have severe headaches, check with your doctor.
Shingles on the inner thigh; what it looks like
Shingles on the inner thigh is often localized but may also involve the buttocks or waist. Only the thigh is usually affected. After tingling or burning sensation, lesions soon develop. New bumps continue appearing for several days.
Shingles blisters may burst and ooze. After this, they may become flattened and with yellow tops. The blisters then dry with scabs forming on their tops. Most symptoms will improve once the blisters have crusted over.
A unique feature of shingles is the occasional presentation with a belt-like appearance around the waist or chest. Not always will signs form a complete belt.
Widespread shingles on inner thigh is possible but not common. The main difference between shingles and chicken pox is that the former develops on localized areas. When we get chicken pox, our bodies develop some sort of immunity against the disease. Shingles outbreaks are therefore mostly localized around areas supplied by nerve fibers in which causative virus hides.
Ruptured shingles blisters develop into open sores. Staph and strep infections usually take advantage of breaks on skin to reach superficial layers. As a result, shingles can precede a bacterial infection such as cellulitis or vitiligo.
Herpes zoster is another name for shingles. Despite the name, shingles has nothing to do with genital or oral herpes. It is however possible for herpes simplex virus to enter the skin through shingles blisters on the inner thigh or around the genitals.
Signs of shingles on the inner thigh should clear within 5 weeks at most. Patients under medications recover in about 2 weeks. In most cases, no scarring will be present after recovery. If pain continues once blisters are completely healed, a doctor should be consulted. It could be a case of post-herpetic neuralgia.
Shingles on both ankles and back of leg
When you have a rash on the lower leg, the first condition that comes to mind is not shingles. You may think of eczema, psoriasis, hives and athlete’s foot.
Eczema is characterized by dry skin, scaling, redness and inflammation. It occurs in patches of very itchy skin.
Psoriasis is caused by accumulation of dead skin. Signs include red patches with white scales which persist throughout the rash.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection which mostly appears between toes. It is caused by dampness. Affected areas develop blisters rather than rash.
Hives are areas of elevated skin. They are more common during an allergic reaction. Hives do not usually last for long.
Is shingles contagious to toddlers? Parents who have shingles should not worry about passing the infection to their babies. Shingles is not contagious but varicella-zoster virus is. Touching ruptured blisters or the fluid that oozes from the blisters can transmit causative virus. Breathing in virus particles is another way transmission can occur.
Shingles on both ankles is less common, bearing in mind that shingles doesn’t commonly appear on the lower body. More familiar cases are more along the lines of when you have shingles rash on face or chest only on one side.
Shingles leg pain treatment
The best shingles leg pain treatment depends on the cause that makes it a necessity. Normally, shingles is accompanied by a painful rash. This can be treated with painkillers and sometimes anti-inflammatory medications.
Post-herpetic neuralgia occurs in about 15% of all cases. In some patients, the pain will improve within 18 months. But if that period elapses with no improvements, it is likely that the pain is not going away any time soon.
Nerve damage is responsible for post-herpetic neuralgia. Painkillers only relieve pain, and do not address the issue of nerve damage.
As to how to treat shingles in adults, opioids and tricyclic antidepressants are commonly used. Other possible examples include Lyrica, Neurontin and Zostrix. Patients respond differently to different medications. Your doctor’s consent is therefore very important before use of medications, especially ones to treat chronic conditions. Cases of deaths attributed to opioids overdose have risen sharply in recent years, the case being termed as a national crisis. Some experts describe opioid addiction as worse than that of hard drugs like cocaine.
Chances that a single treatment will work are fairly low. Doctors therefore combine several treatments for best results. Trial and error may be necessary before the best combination is settled on.
Vaccines do not treat or keep shingles from occurring. They only prevent severe symptoms. See shingles vaccine effectiveness for details.
Treatment at home
Both short-term and long-term shingles leg pain can be treated at home. Popular home treatments include use of remedies such as capsaicin ointments and a wet compress. Home remedies are not aimed at treating shingles. They work as alternative shingles rash treatment. For example, essential oils soothe irritated skin and may therefore reduce pain. Tea tree oil prevents bacterial infections and reduces inflammation. As for wet compress, it keeps shingles blisters clean and relieves pain.
Note that it depends on the results you want to achieve when using home treatments. For example, capsaicin is among the best home remedies for shingles nerve pain. Essential oils on the other hand are best used to improve signs like rash. Some remedies can be used for more than one benefit. A good example is shingles pain relief apple cider vinegar treatment with also prevents infection.
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