Diagnosing and Treating Shingles Online
Shingles are caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox – varicella-zoster virus. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, the virus will stay inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. If the virus is reactivated it can cause shingles.
This condition is not life-threatening, but the outbreaks can be extremely painful. There are vaccines that can help reduce the risk of shingles and early treatment can help shorten a shingles outbreak.
Pain is usually the first symptom of shingles and can sometimes be mistaken for another problem depending on the location of the pain. When shingles affect areas near your heart, lungs or kidneys, they can be mistaken for something more serious. In most cases, shingles will start to develop in a rash that appears in a stripe of blisters wrapping around your torso.
You should see a doctor if you think there is any chance you may have shingles, but you should especially see a doctor in the following situations:
- The rash/pain is occurring near your eyes. This condition can lead to permanent eye damage if left untreated
- The rash is widespread and extremely painful
- You or someone in your family have a weakened immune system
- If your over 70
You and your online doctor can help determine the severity of your symptoms and what type of treatment is needed, or if a referral to a dermatologist or specialist is required.
During a video consult on Amwell your doctor will ask you a series of targeted questions to determine if your symptoms point to shingles. Then your provider will proceed to determine the best treatment plan for you. Your provider may recommend in-person examination by a specialist if this is needed. Your treatment plan is based on the duration and severity of your symptoms and your medical history.
Our platform has an image upload feature that is extremely helpful for both providers and patients. With this feature, our physicians can get a precise, detailed look at your outbreak before the visit even begins. This feature is also very useful to see how your shingles have progressed. If your rash has been present for a few days and you have a picture from the first day, it is helpful for our providers to see the comparison. If your outbreak is on your face, this feature is specifically useful for those that wear makeup – you can take a picture when you have a clean face, save it and upload before your visit! For best results we recommend pictures be taken in bright, natural light, close to the outbreak and from a few different angles. If you can give a size perspective, like laying a dime near the rash, this can be extremely helpful, as well.
Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will go over the risks and benefits of the various treatment plans. Treatment for shingles are different depending on the severity.
Options for treatment of shingles may include:
- An antiviral drug
- Aluminum acetate
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories
- Nerve pain medication