Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a common infection of the nerves. It is caused by a virus. Shingles triggers a painful rash or small blisters on an area of skin. It can appear anywhere on the body, but it typically appears on only one side of the face or body. Burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching are early signs of the infection. Even after the rash is gone, the pain can continue for months, even years.
Shingles is caused when the chickenpox virus is reactivated. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerves for many years. Shingles is more common in people with weakened immune systems, and in people over the age of 50.
However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Skin sensitivity, tingling, itching, and/or pain in the area of the skin before the rash appears
- Rash, which appears after 1 to 5 days and initially looks like small, red spots that turn into blisters
- Blisters typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up within 2 to 4 weeks
Other early symptoms of shingles may include:
- Stomach upset
- Feeling ill
- Fever and/or chills
The symptoms of shingles may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your licensed health care provider for a diagnosis.
Specific treatment for shingles will be determined by your health care provider based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the condition
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your opinion or preference
There is no cure for shingles. It simply has to run its course. Treatment focuses on pain relief. Painkillers may help relieve some of the pain. Antiviral drugs may help lessen some of the symptoms and minimize nerve damage. Other treatments may include:
- Bed rest, especially during the early phase of shingles, and if fever is present
- Creams or lotions to help relieve itching
- Cool compresses applied to affected skin areas
- Antiviral medications (such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir)
Because shingles comes from the same virus which causes chickenpox, anyone who has had chickenpox has an increased risk of developing shingles. Adults age 50 and older should talk to their primary care provider about reducing their risk with the FDA-approved shingles vaccine.
- Nearly 50,000 people 60 and over get shingles each year.
- Shingles can last 3-5 weeks with nerve pain continuing for months.
- 98% of adults have had chickenpox and are at risk for shingles.
Talk to your primary care provider about receiving your shingles vaccine.