What Is Shingles?

3 answers | Last updated: Nov 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

What is shingles?


Expert Answers

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging.net. She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus. This virus is the same one that gives people chicken pox. After a person recovers from chicken pox, the virus retreats to the body's nerves, where it can hibernate indefinitely. In about two out of every ten people, the virus eventually reactivates as shingles.

The reasons the varicella zoster virus reactivates as shingles include:

  • An aging immune system (it's most common in adults over age 50).
  • Stress.
  • Medications that weaken immunity (including chemotherapy and medications given after transplants).
  • Infections that weaken immunity (such as HIV).

Shingles usually starts with pain, for days or even weeks before a red rash appears. The pain and the rash are usually focused on just one side and one part of the body -- on the left or right side of the neck, for example. Within a few days the rash spots turn into blisters, which crust over within seven to ten days.

Shingles can be treated with antiviral medications, but this is usually only helpful if treatment is started within the first 72 hours after the rash appears.

You can't catch shingles from another person, the way you can catch chicken pox. But a person who hasn't had chicken pox can get the virus from someone with shingles -- although that's rare. For that reason, however, until blisters have healed, adults with the condition should stay away from unimmunized babies or pregnant women who haven't had either chicken pox or its vaccine.

Shingles can recur after you've had it once, but only rarely. The shingles vaccine makes it less likely that you'd develop shingles and can reduce its severity if you do get it. The vaccine is recommended for almost all adults over age 60, even those who have already had shingles.


Community Answers

Itchy answered...

I have had shingles. I was blessed with a burning sensation weeks before the breakout. I received treatment within 24 hrs. after I figured out what I had and the recomendations. The ordeal could have been a lot worse. I have however been left with the same burning sensation that started the process and that has been nearly a year ago. I find myself taking medication at least once or twice a week to keep down the sensation which is more aggrivating than anything else.


Wildharleyeyes05 answered...

I EXSPERIENCE AN ODD REACTION THAT IM NOT SURE WHAT CAUSES IT,I HAVE HAD SHINGLES VERY VERY PAINFULL.IM NOT SURE IF WHAT I HAVE IS A REACTION TO SHINGLES IN SOME WERID WAY. BUT I EXSPERIENCE A SMALL BUMP OR LUMP AT FIRST THEN I SWELL, INTO LARGER BUMP THAT IS BETWEEN THE SIZE OF QUATER,TO A SOFTBALL,AND SWELLING IS ONLY ON FACE,NECK AND SHOULDERS,AND HEAD,I HAVE SUCH A SERIOUS REACTION IT CAUSES PROBLEMS WITH BREATHING.BUT THE REASON I WONDER IF ITS SHINGLES IS AFTER I SWELL UP I HAVE SERIOUS PAIN ON NECK WITH LIL BUMPS THAT REMIND ME OF CHIKEN POX OR SHINGLES AND HURTS REALLY BAD LIKE I HAVE A SUNBURN THERE VERY PAINFULL BUT THERES ONLY A FEW THERE LIKE SMALL BLISTARS WITH CLEAR LIQUID LIKE WATER BLISTERS ONCE THEY POP THE PAIN IS STILL THERE BUT WHEN THEY CRUST OVER THE PAIN GETS A LIL LESS BUT TAKES ABOUT TEN DAYS ARE LONGER FOR IT TO DISAPEAR. IVE BEEN TO ALL KINDS OF ALLERGY DOCTORS KNOW ONE CAN FIGURE IT OUT IVE BEEN DEALING WITH THIS FOR 10YRS. BUT THE ONLY MEDS THAT TAKE IT AWAY IS PREDIZONE, AND A EPPIE PEN. EXCUSE MY SPELLING NEVER BEEN GOOD AT IT. IF YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS PLZ REPLY. THX