Shingles is a common and highly painful skin condition that affects 1 in 3 people in the United States. It’s caused by the varicella zoster (or herpes zoster) virus, which lives within the body and can flare up at any time. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox, and it lies dormant within anyone who has ever had chickenpox.
Shingles is a common skin condition caused by the herpes zoster virus and characterized by a very painful, persistent, and intensely itchy rash. Signs and symptoms include:
- Stinging pain
Shingles affects just one side of the body, and appears in a band or strip across the abdomen, chest or face. The shingles rash may start off mild and then begin to blister and intensify, causing deep, piercing or shooting pain. The fluid-filled blisters eventually burst and begin to crust over.
While shingles is best known for producing an intense rash, it may cause the following before onset:
- Swollen glands
A typical shingles outbreak may last between 3-4 weeks. Even after symptoms fade, stabbing pain, numbness and sensitivity may affect the skin. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia, and can be a lingering effect that lasts for months or years.
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus. While the virus may be present in the body, it can lie dormant and never lead to shingles symptoms. It is not known why the virus flares up when it does.
Who does shingles affect?
- Most often adults, though young adults and children can get shingles
- Individuals with weakened immune systems
- Stress is thought to be another trigger.
It’s important to note that the skin condition shingles cannot be passed from person to person, but the virus that causes the shingles outbreak can be.
If someone has had chickenpox in their lifetime, the virus already lives within them, and can potentially flare up at any time. However, if someone who has never had chickenpox comes in contact with someone who is suffering from a blistering shingles rash, they can contract the virus from the fluid in the blisters.
It is important to:
- Keep the area covered to prevent spreading
- Wash hands often
- Avoid scratching
A shingles vaccine is available for people ages 50 and above, however, it does not guarantee that you will not experience a shingles outbreak, or spread the virus. The chickenpox vaccine is also available for children or adults who have never had chickenpox.
While over-the-counter products exist to help relieve intense pain, rash, and irritation, they will not cure you of the shingles virus. Once you have contracted it, it lives within the body and can flare up at any time.
Visit your medical professional for more information on the shingles virus and shingles outbreaks. Only a doctor can properly diagnose you with shingles, and offer professional advice. The information we are providing is not meant to substitute a visit to your healthcare provider, or to be taken as medical advice.