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What a Pain: Oral Shingles

An estimated one in three American adults will develop the excruciatingly painful condition known as shingles in their lifetime. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 90 percent of adults in the United States have already been exposed to shingles, also known as herpes zoster, and about 1 million new cases of shingles are reported each year. While shingles typically appears on the torso and face, it has been found in places such as the eyes and even the mouth, causing a whole host of unpleasant side effects. So, what is this debilitating illness, and what can you do if you get shingles in the mouth?

What Is Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus - the same virus that causes chicken pox. In fact, shingles lesions closely resemble chicken pox lesions in shape and size, but they are often much more painful. If you were unfortunate enough to contract chicken pox as a child, you (along with about 90 percent of the United States population) already have the herpes zoster virus in your system. Thankfully, children today have less of a risk of developing chicken pox due to the chicken pox vaccine; however, the vaccine is not perfect, and children who are vaccinated can still get a milder version of chicken pox, so it is still important to keep your child away from infected people during an outbreak.

There are now also shingles vaccines called Zostavax and Shingrix, which can be given to patients even if they have had chicken pox. These vaccines are recommended for patients over the age of 60 and can reduce the risk of developing shingles by 51 percent.

How Is Oral Shingles Treated?

Shingles in the mouth can be treated several different ways. First, it is recommended that if you do suspect you have shingles (either in the mouth or elsewhere) that you see your doctor immediately. You can shorten the duration of your outbreak and lessen the pain dramatically by being treated as early as possible.

Shingles is treated by antiviral drugs such as famciclovir, valaciclovir and acyclovir. For oral shingles, patients may find relief by rinsing with anti-microbial medicated mouthwash, which will help clean the oral lesions and keep them from allowing bacteria into the cheeks, lips and gums.

Oral shingles may make it difficult to eat, especially since 47 percent of the body’s sensory and motor neurons in the frontal cortex are attached to the face and mouth. Many patients with oral shingles prefer to eat soft, cold foods like yogurt, ice cream or smoothies.

If you believe you have oral shingles, please give Dr. Abelar a call to discuss your treatment options. His office can be reached at 858-866-9692.

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