Shingles is characterized by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in the sensory nerves close the spinal cord. Even though the back and trunk are the typically affected areas, the head is oftentimes affected.
Shingles can trigger a rash that starts as reddened, swollen patches of skin that later evolve into fluid-filled blisters. Among healthy individuals, the lesions break open and crust between 7-10 days, indicating the end of the infectious stage of the disease.
Nevertheless, 2-4 weeks might be needed to achieve complete healing. When it comes to head shingles, the lesions might form on the face, scalp, eyelids, ears and mouth. If shingles affects the eye, it can cause lasting changes in vision or even blindness.
In most cases of head shingles, systemic signs such as headache, fever, light sensitivity, diminished appetite and malaise are present.
The individual often wrongly believes that he/she is coming down with the cold or flu. Nevertheless, the distinctive respiratory signs of these infections such as runny nose and dry cough do not arise.
The fever brought about by head shingles is low grade or even subjective. The individual feels feverish, but the temperature taken is normal. The symptoms typically arise a few days before the skin lesions manifest on the head and often resolve once the lesions crust or scab over.
The discomfort caused by head shingles starts as mild tingling, itching, burning, stinging or soreness in sites where the lesions later form. Once the lesions develop, the pain becomes worse and can be debilitating.
The pain can be triggered by facial motions or even a light touch such as a faint breeze. In most cases, the discomfort settles within 1-2 months but in some cases, the pain lingers for some time.
In some individuals with head shingles, the condition turns inward which results to encephalitis or inflammation in the brain. The usual signs include headache, fever, vomiting and light sensitivity.
A distinctive difference between brain inflammation and flu-like ailment is that the latter manifests gradually while the signs due to brain inflammation arise abruptly.
It is important to note that inflammation of the brain is also progressive. The signs are evidently neurological such as poor coordination, weakness, lethargy, mental confusion and irritability. If not promptly treated using steroids and antiviral drugs, the individual might develop seizures or coma.