12 Things to Know About Shingles

  • Chickenpox
    1. It's caused by the chickenpox bug
    Those red, itchy bumps are practically a rite of passage in childhood. But even when they fade, the body's battle with the varicella-zoster virus may not be over. The bug lies dormant in many grown-ups' bodies, eventually causing a painful neurological condition called shingles.

  • Doctor
    2. One million Americans are affected yearly
    Shingles is common, and the older you get, the greater your risk. By age 80, one in two adults will have had the condition. About half of all cases occur in adults age 60 or older, and only 5% affect children.

  • Child with flu
    3. Had chickenpox? You're at risk
    It's hard to reach adulthood without being exposed to the varicella-zoster virus. Almost everyone has chickenpox at some point, even if the case is so mild it goes unnoticed. And children who had chickenpox before age 1 may get shingles before they are adults.

  • Painful shoulder
    4. Early signs include pain and burning
    In adults, the varicella-zoster virus lingers in nerve cells. Doctors aren't sure how it gets reactivated in some people. But when it does, the first indication is often a painful burning or tingling on one side of the body.

  • Shingles rash
    5. Next, a telltale rash develops
    One to five days later, a rash of red bumps appears, usually in the same spot as the pain. Soon these bumps turn into fluid-filled blisters, usually on the trunk of the body, around the chest or back. They can also strike the face, eyes, and ears. 

  • Taking temperature
    6. Other symptoms span your body
    Shingles can also cause fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach. Shingles infections that affect the ear may cause muscle weakness in the face. Outbreaks on the face or eyes can cause hearing or vision problems.

  • Male Doctor Checking Female Patient Glands
    7. The condition is typically short-lived
    Pain from shingles is often severe and debilitating. But most cases clear up within a few weeks. After the blisters dry up, they often leave no scars. What's more, after you have shingles once, you are unlikely to get it again.

  • Lingering pain
    8. In some people, pain can linger
    In about one in 10 people, the pain of shingles does not go away along with the rash. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia. Severe cases can be debilitating and lead to depression, insomnia, anxiety, and weight loss. The pain usually goes away on its own within a year.

  • Female doctor at hospital checking female patient's heart with stethoscope
    9. Other complications can also be serious
    Rare but serious side effects of shingles include permanent vision loss or hearing problems, pneumonia, brain inflammation, scarring from infected blisters, or stroke. Even more rarely, the disease can be fatal. Most often, these issues occur in people with compromised immune systems, including those with cancer, major organ transplantation, or HIV.

  • woman-receiving-shot-in-arm
    10. There's a shingles vaccine
    In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine that can help prevent shingles in older adults who have had chickenpox. Immunized people are half as likely to develop shingles, and their cases tend to be less severe. Ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you.

  • Shingles treatment
    11. Fast treatment prevents complications
    There's no cure for shingles. But there's evidence that taking antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valcyclovir, or famciclovir within 72 hours of the appearance of the rash can speed recovery and reduce the risk of lasting pain. Other treatments include anti-inflammatory steroids and rest.

  • portrait of happy senior woman sitting with family outside at dinner table
    12. Shingles isn't contagious
    You can't get shingles from someone else. However, a person with a shingles rash can give chickenpox to someone who has never had it. Health experts now recommend that all children age 18 months to teenagers get the chickenpox vaccine to reduce their risk for both conditions.

12 Things to Know About Shingles

About The Author

  1. Shingles. American Academy of Family Physicians. January 2011. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/shingles.printerview.all.html
  2. About Shingles. NIH SeniorHealth, January 2011. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/shingles/aboutshingles/01.html
  3. Causes and Risk Factors. NIH SeniorHealth. January 2011. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/shingles/causesandriskfactors/01.html
  4. Shingles: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome. American Academy of Dermatology. 2012. http://www.aad.org/skin-conditions/dermatology-a-to-z/shingles/diagnosis-treatment/shingles-diagnosi...
  5. Shingles: Signs and symptoms. American Academy of Dermatology. 2012. http://www.aad.org/skin-conditions/dermatology-a-to-z/shingles/signs-symptoms/shingles-signs-and-sym...
  6. Shingles Overview: Herpes Zoster. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011 http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html
  7. Shingles Signs & Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/symptoms.html
  8. Clinical Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/hcp/clinical-overview.html#complications
  9. Shingles (Zoster): Questions and Answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4221.pdf
  10. Shingles, National Institute on Aging. 2009. http://www.nia.nih.gov/print/health/publication/shingles
  11. Shingles: Hope Through Research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2011. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/shingles/detail_shingles.htm?css=print
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Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 8
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