Key Points About Shingles
- Shingles is a common viral infection of the nerves. It causes a painful rash or small blisters on an area of skin.
- Shingles is caused when the chickenpox virus is reactivated.
- It is more common in people with weakened immune systems, and in people over the age of 50.
- Shingles starts with skin sensitivity, tingling, itching, and/or pain followed by rash that looks like small, red spots that turn into blisters.
- The rash is typically affects just one area on one side of the body or face.
- Treatment that is started as soon as possible helps reduce the severity of the disease.
Can You Get Shingles If You Havent Had Chickenpox
No. You cant get shingles if youve never had chickenpox, but you can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles. If youve never had chickenpox and you come into direct contact with the oozing, blister-like rash of someone with shingles, the varicella-zoster virus can infect you and you would develop chickenpox.
Once youve had chickenpox, you could develop shingles at some point in your life. This is because the varicella-zoster virus never fully goes away after youve had chickenpox. It lies quietly inactive in your nerve tissue. Later in life, the virus may become active again and appears as shingles.
Can you get chickenpox more than once?
Its rare to get chickenpox twice in your life. Once youve had chickenpox, youre usually immune to it for the rest of your life. However, its not totally impossible. If you have a severely weakened immune system , you can get chickenpox a second time. If youve had chickenpox, you are more likely to get shingles at some point in your life than a repeat bout of chickenpox.
S Of The Shingles Rash
If you have a rash of blisters on your skin or a rash that looks like any shown below, see your doctor immediately for a diagnosis. If you have shingles, its important to get treatment, preferably within 2 to 3 days.
If youve had the rash for longer than 2 to 3 days, its still important to see your doctor.
A typical shingles rash
Doctors often refer to this rash as the shingles band because it looks like a band that appears on one area of your body, as shown here.
A rash on one side of the body
A key that you have shingles is that the rash only develops on one side of your body.
Close-up of a shingles rash
The shingles rash often causes a cluster of tiny blisters. You may notice that the skin beneath the blisters is red and inflamed, as shown here.
The rash will also feel painful.
Blistering shingles rash on a man’s chest
Although the rash can begin in one area, you may notice that a few scattered blisters develop in other areas, as shown here.
Shingles rash on the palm of a man’s hand
While shingles tends to develop on your body or face, it can appear anywhere on your skin.
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Why Doesnt Having Chickenpox Earlier In Life Provide Immunity Against Having Shingles Later
After having chickenpox, your body doesnt rid your system of the virus. Instead, the virus stays in a portion of the spinal nerve root called the dorsal root ganglion. In most people, the virus simply stays there quietly and doesnt cause problems. Scientists arent always sure why the virus gets active again, but they know stress can be a cause.
What Does Early Stages Of Shingles Look Like
Shingles progress through several stages as the virus replicates in your body. Shingles start as a rash with red bumps, known as papules, distributed most frequently over your back and torso.
Within several days, grouped blisters are present. Within seven to ten days, the vesicles dry up and crust.
The early stage of shingles looks like small, red, raised, solid pimples or an inflamed rash. These are tiny, raised bumps on the skin. Eventually, these bumps blister and later crust. The beginning stages of shingles create tingling and localized pain.
The early stages of shingles are also described as itching, burning, or deep pain. People who have had shingles also described the early stages as similar to the beginning of the flu.
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Am I Contagious If I Have Shingles
Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. But someone who has never had chickenpox can contract VZV from a person with active shingles. They would then develop chickenpox, not shingles.
Only direct contact with fluid from shingles blisters can transmit the virus. Keep shingles blisters covered with a fluid absorbent dressing to prevent others from contracting the virus.
Can You Get Shingles From The Covid
There have been a few reports of shingles happening in people who were vaccinated against COVID-19. The varicella-zoster virus was reactivated in these people.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If youve had chickenpox, youre at risk of developing shingles later in life. Shingles causes a rash that is contagious and painful. The disease can have serious complications. The best thing you can do to reduce your risk is to get the shingles vaccine. The vaccines are safe and effective.
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Other Health Problems Due To Shingles
Some people develop other health problems after the shingles rash clears, which include:
Postherpetic neuralgia : This is the most common. Occurring where you had the rash, PHN can cause constant tingling, burning, and pain. For others, the pain comes and goes.
Whether the pain is constant or intermittent, it can go on for a long time. You can have PHN for months, years, or the rest of your life. There is no way to know how long it will last.
The pain caused by PHN can become so severe that it interferes with your life, making everyday activities painful. A musician may no longer be able to play an instrument. Some people cannot walk comfortably. It may be difficult to bathe or get dressed. You may have trouble sleeping.
How to prevent PHN: If you have shingles, you can greatly reduce your risk of PHN by getting treated for shingles within 3 days of developing the rash.
Get treated for shingles within 3 days of developing the rash
Taking antiviral medication within 3 days of getting the shingles rash can: Reduce your risk of developing PHN Ease symptoms of shingles Clear the shingles rash more quickly
Other health problems that can develop after the shingles rash clears include:
Blindness or loss of some eyesight
Although rare, some people die of shingles.
Treatment can prevent these complications.
You can find out if you have a greater risk of developing shingles at, Shingles: Causes.
Preventing The Virus Spreading
If you have the shingles rash, do not share towels or flannels, go swimming, or play contact sports. This will help prevent the virus being passed on to someone who has not had chickenpox.
You should also avoid work or school if your rash is weeping and cannot be covered.
Chickenpox can be particularly dangerous for certain groups of people. If you have shingles, avoid:
- women who are pregnant and have not had chickenpox before as they could catch it from you, which may harm their unborn baby
- people who have a weak immune system, such as someone with HIV or AIDS
- babies less than one month old, unless it is your own baby, in which case your baby should have antibodies to protect them from the virus
Once your blisters have dried and scabbed over, you are no longer contagious and will not need to avoid anyone.
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Where Does Shingles Come From
When you have chickenpox as a child, your body fights off the varicella-zoster virus and the physical signs of chickenpox fade away, but the virus always remains in your body. In adulthood, sometimes the virus becomes active again. This time, the varicella-zoster virus makes its second appearance in the form of shingles.
What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Shingles Immunisation
All medicines and vaccines can have side effects. Sometimes they are serious, most of the time theyre not.
For most people, the chance of having a serious side effect from a vaccine is much lower than the chance of serious harm if you caught the disease.
Talk to your doctor about possible side effects of shingles vaccines, or if you have possible side effects that worry you.
Common side effects of shingles vaccines include:
- pain, redness, swelling or itching where the needle went in
Serious reactions to immunisation are rare. With ZostavaxÂ® vaccination, very rarely a generalised chickenpox-like rash may occur around 24 weeks after vaccination. This may be associated with fever and feeling unwell. This rash may be a sign of a serious reaction to the virus in the vaccine. Seek medical attention and inform of recent Zostavax vaccination if you experience this reaction.
What Are Some Common Treatments For Shingles
The CDC recommends that adults 50 years or older receive two doses of the shingles vaccine. Additionally, several antiviral medicines like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of the illness. These medicines are most effective when taken immediately after the rash appears.
What Are The Symptoms Of Shingles
Usually, shingles develops on just one side of the body or face, and in a small area. The most common place for shingles to occur is in a band around one side of the waistline.
Most people with shingles have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Tingling, itching, or numbness of the skin
- Chills, fever, headache, or upset stomach
For some people, the symptoms of shingles are mild. They might just have some itching. For others, shingles can cause intense pain that can be felt from the gentlest touch or breeze. Its important to talk with your doctor if you notice any shingles symptoms.
If you notice blisters on your face, see your doctor right away because this is an urgent problem. Blisters near or in the eye can cause lasting eye damage and blindness. Hearing loss, a brief paralysis of the face, or, very rarely, inflammation of the brain can also occur.
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Causes And Risk Factors Of Shingles
The varicella-zoster virus the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles is part of a group of viruses called herpes viruses. This group also includes the viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes.
If youve had chicken pox, you can get shingles. After the chicken pox is over, varicella-zoster lies inactive, mainly in spinal or cranial nerves. Sometimes the virus reactivates, and thats when it travels along the nerves to erupt as a rash on your skin, causing shingles.
Check If You Have Shingles
The first signs of shingles can be:
- a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin
- a headache or feeling generally unwell
A rash will appear a few days later.
Usually you get the shingles rash on your chest and tummy, but it can appear anywhere on your body including on your face, eyes and genitals.
The rash appears as blotches on your skin, on 1 side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles.
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What Are The Health Complications
The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia . PHN causes severe pain even after the shingles rash clears.
People aged 60 years and older who dont seek treatment for shingles are more likely to develop PHN.
Shingles can also cause serious sight problems if it infects the structures of the eye.
Other rare complications include:
How To Treat And Prevent Shingles
Shingles is treated using antiviral medications, such as:
To manage shingles pain, you can also use numbing creams like lidocaine, or place a cool, wet washcloth on your skin.
It’s important to get treatment as quickly as possible because, “people with shingles can develop long-term pain or itch after the shingles resolves if the virus does too much damage,” Kim says.
To stop yourself from spreading varicella-zoster to anyone else, try to cover up your rash when possible and avoid directly touching it.
The best way to prevent shingles is to get a shingles vaccine. The newest vaccine, called Shingrix, is 85% to 90% effective at preventing shingles in people who have already had chickenpox. If you have never had chickenpox, you will need to get the chickenpox vaccine instead.
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How Long Does Shingles Last
Most cases of shingles last three to five weeks.
- The first sign is often burning or tingling pain sometimes it includes numbness or itching on one side of the body.
- Somewhere between one and five days after the tingling or burning feeling on the skin, a red rash will appear.
- A few days later, the rash will turn into fluid-filled blisters.
- About one week to 10 days after that, the blisters dry up and crust over.
- A couple of weeks later, the scabs clear up.
How Is Shingles Treated
Although a shingles outbreak can last from 3-5 weeks, your doctor can prescribe an anti-viral medication that can help shorten the length of your illness. These anti-viral medications work best when taken at the first sign of outbreak, and can help prevent any long-term side effects of the virus, like long-term nerve pain, known as postherpetic neuralgia.
Aside from anti-virals, your doctor may prescribe pain medication or lotions to help ease the shingles rash itself.
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Shingles Symptoms Before Rash
Shingles develops in two stages. The first is called the prodromal period.
Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella virus, which is what causes chickenpox. After an initial infection, the virus lays dormant in the body. Once reactivated, which can happen years down the line, shingles results.
Often, the earliest signs this is occurring are similar to what you’d expect at the start of any infection. These symptoms sometimes occur at times when you’re feeling stressed or run down. They are also systemic, meaning they affect the whole body.
You may assume you’re just overtired or coming down with a cold when you actually have shingles.
What Do The Results Mean
If you have symptoms and results show VZV antibodies or the virus itself, its likely you have chickenpox or shingles. Your diagnosis of either chickenpox or shingles will depend on your age and specific symptoms. If your results show antibodies or the virus itself and you dont have symptoms, you either once had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine.
If you are diagnosed with an infection and are in a high-risk group, your health care provider may prescribe antiviral medicines. Early treatment can prevent serious and painful complications.
Most healthy children and adults with chickenpox will recover from chickenpox within a week or two. Home treatment can help relieve symptoms. More serious cases may be treated with antiviral medicines. Shingles may also be treated with antiviral medicines as well as pain relievers.
If you have questions about your results or your childs results, talk to your health care provider.
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Natural Treatments To Try
Natural treatments can also be used to sooth shingles and reduce itching under the breast, including:
- Lukewarm colloidal oatmeal bath. Avoid using hot or cold water in your bath. Cold water can increase skin sensitivity, while hot water can increase pain and slow healing of the blisters.
- Cool wet compresses. Apply cool compresses several times daily to cool skin.
- Topically applied witch hazel. Apply using a spray bottle or use in a cool compress.
- Baking soda paste. Mix baking soda with water until a paste-like consistency forms. Leave on the skin for up to 20 minutes. Rinse off with cool or warm water.
If youre over 50, the best way to prevent shingles is to get the shingles vaccine. At one time, the Zostavax vaccine was your only option, but it is no longer available.
The CDC currently recommends Shingrix . Its a two-dose vaccine that is more than 90 percent effective against shingles.
What Triggers A Shingles Flare
While some people may only experience shingles once, others may experience multiple shingles outbreaks over the course of their lifetime.
According to experts, certain medications, a compromised immune system or stress can all contribute to a shingles flare-up.
Ive had patients with shingles who are older and who have had a recent death in family, the loss of a spouse theyre under emotional or psychological stress, Dr. Michael Curry, a Vancouver-based medical doctor told Yahoo Canadain 2018. Ive seen that many times. However it begins we dont fully understand, but we know that emotional or psychological stress has an impact on the physical health of the body as well.
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Urgent Advice: Get Advice From 111 As Soon As You Suspect Shingles
You might need medicine to help speed up your recovery and avoid longer-lasting problems.
This works best if taken within 3 days of your symptoms starting.
111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.
Go to 111.nhs.uk or .
Get an urgent GP appointment
A GP may be able to treat you.
Ask your GP surgery for an urgent appointment.