Shingles In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Home Remedies

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Chickenpox is one of the common illnesses that children have to endure.

Get chickenpox once and get a vaccine for it and your child should be safe from the Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) that causes it, right?

Not really. Once it attacks a person, the virus stays in the body but goes into a dormant mode or sleep mode for the rest of the child’s life. In rare cases in children though, it becomes active to cause another skin-related condition known as shingles. This post tells you about what shingles is, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What Is Shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection that manifests in the form of a rash on the cheek or the back. It is a rare condition in children and teenagers who have a healthy immune system. While older people, aged 60 or above, are at a higher risk, children can also develop this infection, especially if they have a weakened immune system (1), such as in children who are undergoing chemotherapy.

Although rare, shingles can occur more than once in some people. So, does that mean shingles can spread through touch or infected mucus or spit? Let’s find out.

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[ Read: Viral Infection In Children ]

How contagious is shingles?

Shingles, like chickenpox, is a highly a contagious disease. However, anyone who comes in contact with a child having shingles will develop chickenpox and not shingles. The average period that shingles infection can last for is two to four weeks (2). After it has run its course, the infection disappears on its own, and may not necessarily return.

The infection occurs only in those who have been affected by chickenpox earlier. Let’s find out why or what causes it.

Causes Of Shingles

Shingles is caused by the Varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. VZV is related to the herpes virus that causes genital herpes and cold sores, which is why shingles is also known as herpes zoster. The virus can attack children and adults who have not been vaccinated for chickenpox, are weak after recovering from an illness, or have a medical condition that affects the immune system.

In children who have already had a bout of chickenpox, the dormant virus can be triggered by several factors, which researchers have not been able to isolate yet. However, this condition is rare in children aged less than three.

Given that chickenpox and shingles are so closely related, let’s look at shingles symptoms in children, to differentiate between them.

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Symptoms Of Shingles: What Do Shingles Look Like?

Shingles is characterized by the rashes on the skin, usually in the upper part of the body. The child may experience a tingling sensation in the region where the rash is likely to occur, followed by pain and itching. Common signs and symptoms of shingles include:

  • Pain in the nerves under the skin. Although it passes through the nerve, it may feel like the pain is on the skin.
  • Rashes occur as groups of pimples or lines on the face or upper body. As the infection grows, the pimples turn into pus-filled blisters which eventually breakout and scab in seven to ten days.

[ Read: Skin Rashes In Children ]

Some children may also have:

  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • General aches
  • Fatigue

In some other cases, children may only have nerve-related pain, but no rash. And, when you are not sure what is causing the pain, it is best to visit a doctor.

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When to call a doctor?

Usually, shingles is self-diagnosable, like chickenpox is. But you must take the child to a doctor if:

  • the rash is severe and on the face or in the eye.
  • the rash has not cleared even after ten days or two weeks.
  • the rash is very painful or itchy.
  • you are not sure that the rash is shingles.
  • your child has a medical illness or is on medications that could have rashes as a side-effect.
  • your child has a fever or is unwell in general and the rash looks infected.

Shingles by itself is not dangerous, but it can make the child uncomfortable and ill at ease. It is also contagious, which means your child can unwittingly pass it on to you, his siblings, or other children at school. If you suspect your child has developed it, it is best to visit the doctor immediately for diagnosis.

Shingles Diagnosis

A medical professional can diagnose shingles by looking at the rash.

In the absence of a rash, the doctor will ask the child about the pain in the body to determine if it is nerve-related.

In some cases, a swab of the pus or the culture from the blisters may be taken for pathological testing and to confirm the diagnosis. Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor suggests the treatment methods.

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[ Read: Chickenpox In Children ]

Shingles Treatment For Children

Like chickenpox, shingles cannot be cured, but there is a treatment for the condition, if necessary. As mentioned above, shingles infection will go away after it has run its course, which can last up to one month. So, not all children who are infected may need treatment unless the doctor thinks so. Usually, treatment for shingles includes:

  • Antiviral medications such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). These drugs will not remove the virus from the body, but also help minimize any complications that the VZV may cause. Antiviral drugs may also assist in hastening the healing process (1).
  • Some doctors may prescribe topical creams or sprays, skin patches, or oral medications to minimize the nerve-related pain caused by the virus. In some cases, over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, or tricyclic antidepressants may be recommended to deal with the pain. However, do not give the child aspirin as that might lead to the development of Reye’s syndrome (2).
  • When the pain is severe, prescription medication such as morphine, oxycodone, or gabapentin may become necessary.
  • If the rash spreads to the eyes, which is a primary complication of shingles, the doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines along with steroids to reduce it.
  • Sometimes, topical corticosteroids can help in reducing the inflammation of the skin, although this must be tried only under the guidance of a medical practitioner.

In addition to these, the doctor may also prescribe antihistamines to reduce the itching of the rash. You also have the option of falling back on some home remedies to ease the itching.

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Herbal Remedies For Shingles

Here are a few herbal remedies that you can try to alleviate the child’s pain or discomfort caused due to shingles.

  • Oatmeal helps reduce the rash and alleviates the accompanying itchiness. Give the child an oatmeal bath – let him soak in a bath filled with raw oats or ground oats powder that is specifically available for bathing.
  • You can also use aloe vera gel and vitamin E gel or lotions to reduce the itching, although it is important to check with the doctor first.
  • Baking soda or cornstarch paste can help reduce the itching caused by the rash. Mix two parts of cornstarch or baking soda with one portion water and make a paste. Apply that paste on the rash and leave it for ten to 15 minutes, before rinsing it off.

While home remedies and medicines bring down the discomfort, children suffering from shingles require a lot of home care. We give a list of things you could follow to ensure that your child is comfortable.

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[ Read: Molluscum Contagiosum In Children ]

Home Care For Shingles – Dos And Don’ts

Shingles can be a painful condition that needs to be dealt with carefully, to prevent the infection from spreading. Here are a few things that you should and should not do when your child has shingles (3).

  • Use the medication as recommended or prescribed by the doctor
  • Keep the rash dry and clean, to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body
  • Get the child to wear loose clothes to prevent the rash or blisters from getting ruptured
  • Use a cool compress, a vegetable bag, or ice wrapped in a cloth, to relieve the pain
  • Send the child to school or come into physical contact with anyone if pus is oozing out of the blisters
  • Stick plasters or bandages on the blisters
  • Use antibiotic creams, which can slow down the healing process
  • Touching or pricking the pimples or blisters

Can Shingles Be Prevented?

Shingles cannot be entirely prevented, but you can reduce the chances of your child getting it by taking a few preventive measures.

  • Make sure that the child has had the chickenpox vaccine. Unfortunately, shingles can strike more than once. Therefore, getting the vaccine will reduce the chances of further outbreaks (4).
  • If you have more than one child at home, the child with shingles should not share anything with the other children. Also, keep the child out of school until the blisters dry to prevent it from spreading to others.

A weak immune system can make the child vulnerable to shingles and turn the condition worse. Include foods such as orange and yellow fruits, whole grains, leafy green veggies, beans, tomatoes, legumes, chicken, dairy, and eggs among other foods that are rich in vitamins A, B12, C, and E. A healthy diet also helps strengthen the immune system and fight the viral infection better.

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[ Read: Heat Rashes In Children ]

Do you have any health care tips for shingles in kids? Do share them with us in our comments section.

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Dr. Orlena Kerek

Dr. Orlena Kerek pursued Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees from the University of Bristol, the UK in 2001 and is trained as a pediatric doctor. She is now a family health advocate, empowerment mentor, pioneer, author, educator, and mother. She helps families create healthy habits they love so they can all feel fit and fabulous without having... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more