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 What is shingles?
 What is the cause?
 What are the symptoms?
 How is it diagnosed?
 How is it treated?
 How can I take care of myself?
 How can I help prevent shingles?




What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Shingles is also called herpes zoster. This illness is most common in people over 50 years old.

What is the cause?

The virus that causes chickenpox and shingles is called varicella zoster. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body but it is inactive. The virus can become active again at any time in your life and cause shingles if your body's immune system is weakened by things like:

Your risk for getting shingles may be higher if:

Sometimes shingles happens for no known reason.

You cannot have shingles unless you have already had chickenpox, and you cannot get shingles from someone else. However, a person with shingles can transmit chickenpox to a person who has never been exposed to the chickenpox virus. The virus is spread by contact with the blisters, which contain live virus in the fluid. The blisters are no longer contagious after they dry up and form scabs.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptoms may include:

One to 14 days after you start feeling pain, you will notice a rash of small blisters on reddened skin. Within a few days after the rash appears, the blisters will turn yellow, then dry up and form scabs. Over the next 2 weeks the scabs drop off, and the skin heals over the next several days to weeks.

The blisters are usually found in a path, often extending from the back or side around to the middle of the belly. The blisters are usually on just one side of the body. They may also appear on one side of your face or scalp. The painful rash may be in the area of your ear or eye. When shingles occurs on the head or scalp, it may cause weakness of one side of the face, making that side of the face look droopy.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. The diagnosis is usually obvious from the symptoms and the rash. If your provider wants to confirm the diagnosis, you may have lab tests to look for the virus in fluid from a blister.

How is it treated?

Several medicines can help treat shingles. Your healthcare provider may give you:

For most people the pain of shingles goes away in the first month or two after the blisters heal. If you have shingles on your head or scalp, it may take longer for the pain to go away. Sometimes the virus damages a nerve. This can cause pain, numbness, or tingling for months or even years after the rash is healed and is called postherpetic neuralgia. The older you are when you have shingles, the more likely it is that you will have postherpetic neuralgia. Taking antiviral medicine as soon as shingles is diagnosed may help prevent this problem.

How can I take care of myself?

Here are some things you can do to help relieve pain:

Rest in bed if you have fever and other symptoms of illness.

Ask your healthcare provider:

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent shingles?

If you have never had chickenpox, you can get a shot to help prevent infection with the chickenpox virus. Most children now get shots to prevent chickenpox.

If you are 50 or older, you can get a different shot that helps prevent shingles. This shot is recommended for people 60 years of age and older. The shingles shot does not always prevent shingles. However, if you do get shingles sometime after you got the shot, you may have less pain. The shingles shot is not used to treat shingles once you have it.

You can also lessen your chances of getting shingles by trying to keep stress under control, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.

If you have shingles, make sure that anyone who has not had chickenpox or the chickenpox shot does not come into close contact with you until the blisters are completely dry. You are no longer contagious after the blisters dry up and form scabs.

healthinformatics info


Postherpetic Neuralgia. (2013). Patient.co.uk. Retrieved 11/2014 from http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/postherpetic-neuralgia-pro.

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Prevention & Treatment. (2011). US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 11/30/2012 from http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/prevention-treatment.html.

FDA Vaccines, Blood and Biologics. Zostavax (Herpes Zoster Vaccine) Questions and Answers. US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration. July 10, 2009. Accessed December 30, 2009 from http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/QuestionsaboutVaccines/ucm070418.htm.

New York Dept of Health. Shingles (Herpes Zoster). 1/2012. Accessed 11/2013 from http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/shingles/fact_sheet.htm.

Shingles Vaccine. What You Need to Know. Vaccine Information Statement. US Dept of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10/06/2009. Accessed 12/31/2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-shingles.pdf.

Related Topics


Chickenpox in Adults

Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Eye Infections

Postherpetic Neuralgia

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Last Modified: 2015-03-01

Last Reviewed: 2014-12-05

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