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Your Guide to Preventing and Managing Shingles

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the Healthgrades advertising policy.

5 Reasons Why Older Americans Should Get the Shingles Vaccine

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Evelyn Creekmore on March 16, 2022

The risk of getting shingles increases when you turn 50 and continues to increase as your immune system weakens with age. The only way to prevent shingles is to get the shingles vaccine, called Shingrix.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is reactivation of childhood chickenpox that causes an agonizing rash and can lead to serious health complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy people 50 years and older receive two doses of Shingrix 2 to 6 months apart. Learn how the shingles vaccination can protect you.

  • Female with hand on side
    1. Shingles in adults is more painful than many realize.
    Shingles isn’t just any rash. It’s a rash that can feel like it’s stabbing you with a knife from the inside. While chickenpox is itchy, shingles is blistering. Shingles doesn’t come and go quickly, either. It usually lasts 3 to 5 weeks. The rash typically appears 1 to 5 days after infection. It forms blisters that usually burst and scab within 7 to 10 days. They typically don’t clear for 14 to 28 days. Flu-like symptoms may also accompany the rash, including headache, fever, chills, and nausea.
  • dizzy woman with hand on forehead
    2. Shingles in adults can cause serious complications.
    The most common shingles complication is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). With PHN, nerve damage causes pain to continue after the rash has been treated and cleared up. Nerves mistakenly tell the brain that you’re still in danger, even though the threat is gone. You may develop other neurological issues that affect your hearing or balance. Facial paralysis and brain swelling (encephalitis) can also occur. And if you have shingles around your eyes, they can become infected, potentially damaging your vision.
  • view of back of shirtless Caucasian man covered in lesions or boils
    3. Having chickenpox in the past increases your risk of shingles.
    Some people hesitate to get the shingles vaccine because they can’t remember if they’ve had chickenpox. Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster. If you’ve had chickenpox, the virus never completely left your system, and it can surface again as shingles. A full 99% of people in the United States born after 1980 have had chickenpox and are at risk of it “coming back” in shingles form. If you’re positive you never had chickenpox, your doctor can give you an immunity test to confirm and may suggest a chickenpox vaccination.
  • senior woman receiving injection
    4. You can get vaccinated even if you’ve had shingles.
    If you’ve experienced the pain, itch, burning, and blisters of shingles, you’re probably not eager to repeat it. The shingles vaccine can protect you from having to suffer through another bout. There’s also no age limit for getting vaccinated. It’s important to note, however, that you should not get the shingles vaccination if you have shingles currently. Talk with your doctor and plan to get your vaccination after your shingles rash has been treated effectively and cleared completely.
  • senior-couple-eating-breakfast
    5. Certain factors compound shingles risk.
    If you’re 50 or older and you have a weakened immune system, your risk of shingles increases. The immune system can be weakened by autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and medications like corticosteroids if taken long-term. In fact, people with RA are twice as likely to develop shingles as those who aren’t. People taking immunosuppressant medications like biologics, or who have weakened immune systems due to current or past cancer treatment, are also at a higher risk of shingles.
Shingles Vaccine for Adults | Shingles

About The Author

Evelyn Creekmore has more than 15 years of experience writing online educational health content, including nearly 10 years full-time at WebMD, where she was the director of brand content. She holds an MPH in Applied Public Health Informatics from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and an MA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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Last Review Date: 2022 Feb 25
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