12 Things to Know About Shingles

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Cindy Kuzma on June 20, 2021
  • Chickenpox
    1. It's caused by the chickenpox bug.
    Those red, itchy bumps are practically a rite of passage in childhood. But even when they fade, the body's battle with the varicella-zoster virus may not be over. The bug lies dormant in many grown-ups' bodies, eventually causing a painful neurological condition called shingles.
  • serious senior african american man sitting on couch
    2. One million Americans are affected yearly.
    Shingles is common, and the older you get, the greater your risk. By age 80, one in two adults will have had the condition. About half of all cases occur in adults age 60 or older, and only 5% affect children.
  • kids-running-through-forest
    3. Had chickenpox? You're at risk.
    It's hard to reach adulthood without being exposed to the varicella-zoster virus. Almost everyone has chickenpox at some point, even if the case is so mild it goes unnoticed. And children who had chickenpox before age 1 may get shingles before they are adults.
  • Painful shoulder
    4. Early signs include pain and burning.
    In adults, the varicella-zoster virus lingers in nerve cells. Doctors aren't sure how it gets reactivated in some people. But when it does, the first indication is often a painful burning or tingling on one side of the body.
  • skin-rash
    5. Next, a telltale rash develops.
    One to five days later, a rash of red bumps appears, usually in the same spot as the pain. Soon these bumps turn into fluid-filled blisters, usually on the trunk of the body, around the chest or back. They can also strike the face, eyes, and ears. 
  • Older woman wearing scarf holding hand on forehead with headache or fever
    6. Other symptoms span your body
    Shingles can also cause fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach. Shingles infections that affect the ear may cause muscle weakness in the face. Outbreaks on the face or eyes can cause hearing or vision problems.
  • Male Doctor Checking Female Patient Glands
    7. The condition is typically short-lived
    Pain from shingles is often severe and debilitating. But most cases clear up within a few weeks. After the blisters dry up, they often leave no scars. What's more, after you have shingles once, you are unlikely to get it again.
  • man-with-back-pain-sitting-up-in-bed
    8. In some people, pain can linger
    In about one in 10 people, the pain of shingles does not go away along with the rash. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia. Severe cases can be debilitating and lead to depression, insomnia, anxiety, and weight loss. The pain usually goes away on its own within a year.
  • Female doctor at hospital checking female patient's heart with stethoscope
    9. Other complications can also be serious
    Rare but serious side effects of shingles include permanent vision loss or hearing problems, pneumonia, brain inflammation, scarring from infected blisters, or stroke. Even more rarely, the disease can be fatal. Most often, these issues occur in people with compromised immune systems, including those with cancer, major organ transplantation, or HIV.
  • woman-receiving-shot-in-arm
    10. There's a shingles vaccine
    The CDC recommends that every healthy adult 50 years or older get the recombinant zoster vaccine (Shringrix), whether or not they previously received the Zostavax vaccine. Zostavax is no longer used in the U.S.

    When received in two doses, 2 to 5 months apart, the RZV Shringrix vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles. Protection remains above 85% for at least four years. Ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you.
  • mature woman taking medication, round white pills
    11. Fast treatment prevents complications
    There's no cure for shingles. But there's evidence that taking antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valcyclovir, or famciclovir within 72 hours of the appearance of the rash can speed recovery and reduce the risk of lasting pain. Other treatments include anti-inflammatory steroids and rest.
  • portrait of happy senior woman sitting with family outside at dinner table
    12. Shingles isn't contagious
    You can't get shingles from someone else. However, a person with a shingles rash can give chickenpox to someone who has never had it. Health experts now recommend that all children age 18 months to teenagers get the chickenpox vaccine to reduce their risk for both conditions.
12 Things to Know About Shingles

About The Author

  1. Shingles. American Academy of Family Physicians. January 2021. https://familydoctor.org/condition/shingles/?adfree=true
  2. Shingles. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/shingles-overview
  3. About Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/index.html
  4. Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Immunications. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/immunization/diseases/shingles/index.html
  5. Vaccination Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/vaccination.html
  6. Clinical Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/hcp/clinical-overview.html#complications
  7. Shingles (Zoster): Questions and Answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4221.pdf
  8. Shingles. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles
  9. Shingles: Hope Through Research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Shingles-Hope-Through-Research
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 20
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