There are many misconceptions about shingles, and for those who have never had it, it can be hard to understand the symptoms. One common misconception is that one only gets shingles on the torso or the face. This is not true! One can get shingles anywhere on their body, including in their legs. The pain may be different but no less intense than someone else’s would be if they got shingles on their torso or face.
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that is dormant in the nervous system. Therefore, the rash appears in a dermatomal pattern most of the time, which means that the rashes will appear and spread on a particular area of skin supplied by the same spinal nerve. If the relevant nerves are affected, it is also possible to experience shingles on the leg. Although It is relatively unusual, the shingles rash may develop in more than one area of the body as the virus may affect more than one set of nerves. When three or more dermatomes are affected, the rash can develop over multiple areas of the body, and this is known as the disseminated zoster. Fortunately, this is known to be extremely rare, although it should be noted that people with a weaker immune system are at a higher risk of developing such a condition.
While shingles on the leg may be mistaken for other skin conditions, including hives, psoriasis, or eczema, the characteristics of a rash will prove helpful in providing the correct diagnosis:
- Hives are often raised and look like welts.
- Psoriasis involves red patches that have white scales throughout the rash.
- Rashes associated with allergies or eczema may develop anywhere, including the legs and the arms.
Unlike the other types of rashes listed above, the shingles rash is much more painful, and it often appears as small raised dots. One difference between shingles and other rashes is the pattern that develops. As mentioned earlier, shingles affects the nervous system. Therefore the shingles rash usually forms a distinct pattern along the nerves. Additionally, the shingles rash also tends to clear up in a few weeks, unlike rashes due to eczema and psoriasis, which may last much longer (De Pietro, 2018).
Medical treatment of shingles for the leg include:
- Prescription antiviral medicines such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir to reduce the duration and severity of the infection. This is most effective when started within seventy-two hours of the onset of the rash.
- Ointments for relieving shingles that contain acyclovir, lidocaine, and/or capsaicin
- Lotions containing calamine to be used on open lesions to reduce pain and itching
- Anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants, corticosteroids, or numbing agents to help relieve pain (Stankus et al., 2000)
- Applying a wet compress to the area of skin that is experiencing pain and inflammation
- Oral intake or topical applications of antihistamines to relieve the itchiness
If you suspect that you might have gotten shingles on your leg, it is recommended that you visit a doctor as soon as possible so that they can prescribe an appropriate treatment plan. Delaying treatment increases the risk of spreading the virus to others and increases the likelihood of developing significant complications such as postherpetic neuralgia, which is characterized by persistent sharp pain for months or even years after the rash from shingles clears up. Antiviral treatment is also most effective if given within seventy-two hours of the rash appearing.
De Pietro, M. A. (2018, January 18). Is it shingles? Symptoms, vs. other conditions, and causes. Medical News Today.
Stankus, S. J., Dlugopolski, M., & Packer, D. (2000, April 15). Management of herpes Zoster (Shingles) And Postherpetic Neuralgia. American Family Physician.