7 Myths About Shingles

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Lorna Collier on August 10, 2021
  • Worried woman with doctor
    Separating Truth from Fiction About Shingles
    Shingles is a common illness, affecting one million Americans each year. Perhaps its commonness is why there are so many myths and misconceptions about it. People know people who know people who've had it, and pass on various old wives’ tales and other half-truths. But, especially because this is a potentially serious disease, it's important to know what's true and what isn't. That way, you can protect yourself from getting shingles and take the right steps in case you do get it. Here are the myths—and the facts.
  • Women-heart-disease-young-myths
    Myth No. 1: Shingles is for old people only.
    You've seen those ads for the shingles vaccine, which is aimed at people 50 to 60 years old or older. But guess what? Half of shingles cases affect those 60 or younger. The truth is this illness can hit at any age; even children can get it. Be aware that you could be at risk. If or when symptoms strike, you can be vigilant to get early and more effective treatment.
  • Senior father and son talking while having coffee on sofa
    Myth No. 2: Shingles is incredibly contagious—stay away from me!
    The confusion over contagion may be caused by shingles’ history. The virus that causes shingles is a reactivated version of the chickenpox virus, which is indeed highly contagious. With shingles however, the virus is generally only transmitted through contact with an open blister, and usually your shingles blisters are only open for several days before they crust over. Keeping them covered with light bandages or clothing can prevent transmission. Also, you can't transmit shingles to someone—only the chickenpox virus. So, the only people who are at risk of contracting chickenpox are those who have never had chickenpox or have not been immunized against the virus, such as infants.
  • Doctor and patient
    Myth No. 3: Shingles is a one-time deal—it can’t come back.
    While it's not common, shingles can recur. About 5% of patients who had shingles between 1996 and 2001 had a second episode within eight years, according to one study. A third instance of shingles is even more rare. Still, having had shingles isn't a get-out-of-shingles-free card. You should still consider getting a shingles vaccine and not dismiss symptoms if you have them.
  • Mixed race man examining prescription bottles
    Myth No. 4: Just let shingles run its course.
    Shingles isn't a disease to ignore or trust to Mother Nature. There are effective medications, such as antiviral drugs, that can significantly shorten the life cycle of the shingles rash, reduce pain and itching, and cut the chances of complications (such as long-term nerve pain). Antiviral drugs need to be taken within 24 to 72 hours of your rash appearing in order to be most effective, so don't delay seeking medical attention.
  • senior-man-with-tinnitus
    Myth No. 5: You can only get shingles on your torso.
    While shingles are most commonly found on one side or the other of your torso, they can also appear anywhere else on—or in—your body. Shingles can pop up in your eyes, which can cause vision problems. Or it can occur in or near your ears and mouth. If you have shingles, watch your face closely and report any spread of lesions to these areas to your healthcare provider. You may need to see a specialist.
  • Middle aged Caucasian woman with arm pain at doctor
    Myth No. 6: Shingles is bothersome, but no big deal.
    Some people might assume shingles is like chickenpox—you'll be itchy and in pain for a couple weeks and then be fine. And for many, this is true. But about 10 to 15% of people get severe nerve pain that can last months, years or even lifetimes and cause debilitating damage. If shingles gets in the eyes, vision loss—from temporary to permanent—can occur. Studies also show people are more at risk for heart attacks and strokes immediately after a shingles outbreak, with risk continuing for the first few months to first year.
  • Pharmacist giving customer flu shot
    Myth No. 7: You can’t get shingles if you’ve had the vaccine.
    The Shingrix vaccine can protect people from getting shingles about 90% of the time or more, but it is not 100%. That means that even with the vaccine, you need to be aware of shingles symptoms. If you experience pain and burning sensation, followed by a rash, you need to tell your healthcare provider so you can begin immediate treatment.
7 Myths About Shingles Symptoms, Treatment & Vaccine

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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  12. What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/zostavax/index.html
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.