Herpes Zoster, also known as shingles, is a member of the Herpes family of viruses. According to a 2015 University of Maryland study, the Herpes viruses are endemic worldwide, and as much as 90% of the American adult population has been exposed. Shingles, including shingles in the mouth, is a common ailment. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that 1 of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime, with around one million cases reported annually. Since shingles is quite prevalent, it is essential that patients are aware of the symptoms and effects of this condition.
Who Gets Shingles?
Shingles can occur in patients of all ages, although it is most often seen in adults over the age of 60. The cause of the disease is the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes the chickenpox.
What Do Shingles Look and Feel Like?
Shingles lesions appear much like chickenpox lesions — small, clear vesicles that can itch or tingle for the first week and clear up two to four weeks later. Shingles appear primarily on the abdomen, neck, shoulders and face of affected patients. The most common symptoms of shingles include an upset stomach, fever, chills, headache and pain. Shingles may also spread to the eyes, contributing to a loss of vision if left untreated.
Are Shingles in the Mouth?
Shingles in the mouth can be very painful. The International Center for Nutritional Research reports on how specific details of a patient with oral shingles can help experts to recommend a special diet that helps the mouth to heal, while it recovers from the active virus. The complications of shingles in mouth can include heightened pain, mouth sensitivity, difficulty chewing, lack of appetite and an increased risk of oral infections due to open lesions.
How are Shingles in Mouth Treated?
Antiviral medications such as acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir are all used to treat the virus when active. These medications can accelerate the recovery process and are most effective when patients begin a regimen early on in the outbreak. This is part of the reason why a patient who suspects they may have shingles should seek immediate care. Pain relievers may also be recommended to decrease inflammation during healing.
Those who are at a greater risk for shingles, such as health care providers or individuals over the age of 60, may choose to be vaccinated for the Herpes Zoster virus. These vaccinations are available through both pharmacies and medical offices.
Oral Care with Shingles
Patients who have new or healing shingles lesions in the mouth must be meticulous with home oral care to prevent the formation of further oral infections. Antimicrobial products can help keep the mouth clean to facilitate healing. These products contain ingredients that help to eliminate germs and clean oral tissues.