Shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. When the virus enters your body as chickenpox when you are a child it stays in an inactive state within the nerve endings for the rest of your life. If the virus becomes active again many years later, you have Shingles. The rash usually shows up as a band or strip on one side of the body or face.
Ramsay Hunt Syndrome occurs when a Shingles outbreak affects the facial nerve near one of your ears. Not only does the person have to deal with the pain of the rash, but it may cause facial paralysis and hearing loss in the affected ear as well. Other symptoms can be, ear pain, tinnitus, difficulty closing one eye, vertigo and a change in taste perception or loss of taste.
The facial paralysis and hearing loss are usually temporary, but in a few people these symptoms become permanent. The eye may be damaged due to being unable to close the eyelid completely. This can lead to damage of the tissue over the cornea, which leads to eye pain and blurred vision. Lastly is the pain in the nerves called Postherpetic neuralgia. After the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt are resolved there can be lingering pain from the nerves as they become confused in the duration of the syndrome.
There is a vaccine available, Zostavax, which uses a weakened chickenpox virus to help the immune system ward off the disease caused by the virus. This reduces the risk of shingles developing in people aged 50 and older to about 50%. Among those who develop shingles despite being vaccinated against it, the nerve pain period is shorter, which is a relief, as without the vaccine the pain can last from 30 days to months or even years.
I am one of the few I know in my 40s to never have had chickenpox. I did get the vaccine in my 20s and have been very lucky to date. If I am exposed to a person with shingles, I still may get chickenpox, but unless that happens, I will never develop Shingles. I think that is what I am going to be thankful for this week!