What is shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a virus infection that causes painful rashes on the body, usually on one side of your torso. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox.
After you’ve had chickenpox as a child, the virus lays dormant in your body. A strong immune system usually keeps the VZV in check. It’s when your immune system becomes compromised or is weakened, however, that triggers the VZV to reactivate and cause shingles.
While shingles are not contagious, it can spread the VZV to someone who hasn’t had it yet and give them chickenpox. If you’ve never had chickenpox, avoid those who have shingles and, conversely, if you have shingles, don’t go near anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or has a weak immune system.
Symptoms of shingles
Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around the waistline on one side of the body or the other. Sometimes the rash appears on the side of the face. Face shingles can affect the eyes and impair vision. People who already have weakened immune systems can develop more widespread rashes across the body that resemble a chickenpox rash.
Other symptoms of shingles can include:
Most cases of shingles will last between three and five weeks, and follow a general pattern:
- The first sign is a burning or tingling sensation on the skin and can include numbness or itching
- Within a couple of days, a red rash will appear in the affected area
- A few days after the rash appears, it will turn into fluid-filled blisters
- About seven to ten days after that, the blisters dry up and crust over
- A couple of weeks later, the scabs fade away
While most people get shingles only one time in their life, it is possible to have it more than once.
Causes of shingles
Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who’s had chickenpox is susceptible to developing shingles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 out of 3 people will develop shingles at least once in their lifetime.
The risk of getting shingles increases as a person gets older. Scientists believe this may be because a person’s immunity naturally declines as they age. A weakened or compromised immune system is the main trigger for reactivating the virus in the body, causing the outbreak of shingles.
A doctor can usually diagnose shingles with a simple physical exam and questions about your symptoms. If the diagnosis isn’t clear, or if the person is in a high-risk category, like people with an already-weak immune system or pregnant women, the doctor will perform a shingles test. This involves taking a sample from the rash and checking it for the VZV.
Treatments for shingles
There are several antiviral medications available to treat shingles and shorten its length and severity. These include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. It is recommended that you see a doctor and get a prescription for one of these drugs as soon as possible after developing symptoms or when the shingles rash appears.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication is usually recommended to help relieve pain caused by shingles. Prescription-strength opioid pain medication might be prescribed if the pain is moderate or severe. Consult with your doctor for the best pain medication treatment for you.
Recombinant zoster vaccine, also known as RZV Shingrix, is recommended to prevent shingles in adults 50 and older. Zostavax used to be recommended and available in the United States, but as of November 2020, it is no longer available.
IMAGESBrowse through our medical image collection to see and discover unique diseases and conditions See Images
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Shingles (Herpes Zoster)."
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases: "Prevention of Herpes Zoster: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)."
National Institute of Aging: "Shingles."
Top What Triggers a Shingles Outbreak Related Articles
Can You Have a Mild Case of Shingles?The severity of shingles depends on various factors, such as age of the patient, general health condition of the patient, and the part of the body where shingles develops.
What's the Difference Between Chickenpox and Shingles?Learn about the differences between chickenpox and shingles and how these two diseases are connected.
How Long Is Shingles Contagious and How Is It Treated?Learn what medical treatments can ease your shingles symptoms and help you manage this condition.
How Long Is Shingles Contagious?Shingles is contagious from the time the blisters are oozing until the time the blisters have scabbed.
Is Shingles Contagious?Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles symptoms and signs include skin burning, numbness, and tingling along with a painful red, blistering rash. Shingles is contagious until all of the blisters have crusted over.
ShinglesShingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster virus. Other shingles symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, and body aches. Treatment focuses on pain management and shortening the duration of the illness with antiviral medications.
Shingles QuizShingles falls within a well-known family of viruses that cause itching, burning, blisters, and pain. Take the Shingles Quiz to get the facts, causes, symptoms, and treatments for this itchy, painful condition.
What Happens When You Get Shingles When Pregnant?Becoming infected with chickenpox during pregnancy could cause birth defects in your unborn child. Likewise, shingles could also cause problems for your unborn child. If you are pregnant and haven't had chickenpox, avoid exposure to infected people. Zostavax, the shingles vaccine, can reduce the incidence of shingles by half. Women should wait at least three months after receiving the vaccine before trying to get pregnant.
Shingles PicturesAn acute infection caused by the herpes zoster virus, the same virus as causes chickenpox. See a picture of Shingles and learn more about the health topic.
ShinglesShingles occurs when the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox, re-emerges due to a weakened immune system. Tingling may occur before herpes zoster blisters appear, usually on the side of the body. The shingles vaccine can boost the immune system to lower the risk of shingles outbreaks.
Shingles Myths and FactsThere are some common misconceptions about this viral illness and the uncomfortable rash it can cause. Here's a guide through the myths and facts of shingles.
Skin Problems: Rosacea, Acne, Shingles, Covid-19 RashesLearn to spot and treat skin conditions commonly found in adults such as acne, Covid-19 rashes, eczema, shingles, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, cold sores, razor bumps, athlete's foot, and more dermatology details.
What Causes You to Get Shingles?Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Sometimes, in patients with a history of chickenpox, the virus may live in the nervous system for years in an inactive form, and then reactivate as shingles.
What Does a Shingles Rash Look Like at First?The typical shingles red rash or blisters occur after pain, itching, and tingling. They are usually limited to one side of the face and body.
Shingles Vaccine (Zoster Shingles Vaccine Live, Zostavax)Zoster vaccine live (Zostavax) is an attenuated vaccine given to individuals age 60 or older for the prevention of shingles (herpes zoster). Side effects, warnings and precautions, pregnancy information, and complications, should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.