There is a myth that shingles only shows up on the skin, but can you get shingles in your mouth? What causes it, and how do you know if you have it? This article will answer these questions and more.
What Causes Shingles?
The reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus causes shingles in a person who previously had chickenpox, and it mainly affects the nerves and skin. Reactivation is rare, but it can happen when a person is highly stressed or immunocompromised.
How Do You Know If You Have It?
Unlike shingles that presents on the skin, blisters from oral shingles are not as well defined. The presentation of oral shingles is also similar to other oral diseases such as cold sores or primary syphilis. However, a telltale sign of oral shingles would be the appearance of blisters on the tongue and palate with rash and blistering forming on one side of the face coupled with severe pain, especially if the person is older, has had chickenpox in the past, and has no prior history of mouth sores.
To diagnose whether it is genuinely oral shingles, a doctor may conduct a physical exam and review a person’s medical history. They may also order for a swab of the sores to be sent to the lab for evaluation using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or a blood test to detect varicella-zoster virus antibodies (Myhre & Sifris, 2021).
What Are the Symptoms and the Long-term Side Effects Associated with Oral Shingles?
Just as with other types of shingles, oral shingles can be painful, and the blisters may take up to four weeks to heal. You may also experience other symptoms such as:
- Mouth sensitivity
- Difficulty chewing
- Fever and chills
- Stomach pain
- Joint aches
- Altered taste buds
Long-term side effects include post-herpetic neuralgia, which causes continuous nerve pain in areas where you had shingles, as well as diminished hearing, scarring, paralysis, eye damage, permanent pain, vertigo, and blindness (Urgent Medical Center, 2017).
What Are the Treatment Options for Oral Shingles?
In the case of oral shingles, the blisters are slow to heal and vulnerable to bacterial infection due to the mouth’s moist environment, which does not allow the blisters in the oral cavity to stay dry and scab over like shingles on the skin.
As such, oral antivirals such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir are typically prescribed to reduce the severity of the infection. This should ideally be administered within 72 hours of the outbreak. Additionally, oral corticosteroids like prednisone to reduce inflammation and painkillers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-infammatory drugs may be prescribed to help with pain relief.
It is also essential to maintain proper oral hygiene so that the open blisters are not infected. Continue to brush your teeth and floss daily while also making sure not to irritate the blisters with your toothbrush. The doctor may also recommend using an antimicrobial mouthwash with benzydamine hydrochloride or menthol to keep your mouth clean.
Another tip would be to change your diet to include soft food such as yogurt or smoothies, which can also help with pain management.
Contact a doctor as soon as possible if blisters appear on your tongue or inside your mouth. If open blisters are present in the oral cavity, coughing and sneezing may also result in the spread of the virus. Therefore, getting a prompt diagnosis and treatment not only benefits you but the community around you. During the infectious period, it is recommended that you avoid contact with uninfected persons and wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
Myhre, J., & Sifris, D. (2021, May 25). What to do if you have shingles in your mouth. Verywell Health.
Oral shingles: Can you get shingles in your mouth? Urgent Medical Center. (2017, February 6).