This is a painful rash characterized by blisters on one side of the body. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

This is a painful rash characterized by blisters on one side of the body. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Once you have had chickenpox, the virus remains inactive on some of the nerves in your body. The virus can become active again many years later. This can result in a painful rash and other symptoms associated with shingles. It is not known exactly why the virus becomes active again. Some of the possible reasons include:

  • Stress
  • Older age
  • Having had chickenpox before age 1
  • A weakened immune system

Shingles typically causes pain, burning and tingling a few days before a rash develops. The rash consists of itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually burst and crust over.

The rash is usually located on one side of body, usually from the spine to the chest or abdomen. Sometimes, the rash can involve the face (eyes and mouth), ears and genital area. It normally takes a few weeks for all of the blisters to burst and crust over. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Fever and chills
  • General ill feeling (malaise)
  • Headache
  • Joint pain and swollen glands
  • If a nerve in your face is affected, difficulty with facial muscles and vision or hearing loss

Contact your health care provider if you have symptoms of shingles. Shingles is usually diagnosed by medical history and physical examination. Tests are rarely needed.

There are antiviral medications that can help control the virus. Use of these medications can shorten the time you are ill and decrease the pain and complications associated with shingles. These medications are more effective if you take them before the rash develops, usually within three days of the initial symptoms. Some other recommended medications may include steroids, pain medications, antihistamines and creams containing capsaicin (a pepper extract). To help control the symptoms associated with shingles, you can also:

  • Use cool, wet compresses on the rash
  • Get plenty of rest until any fever has resolved
  • Use oatmeal baths with lukewarm water
  • Use over-the-counter medications and topical lotions (calamine) as directed by your health care provider

Until the blisters have all dried and crusted over, you can spread the virus to anyone who has not had the chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. These individuals will not have immunity to the virus.

  • As long as the blisters are oozing, you should avoid anyone who has impaired immunity. Also, avoid pregnant women who have not had chicken pox or the chickenpox vaccine.
  • When visiting your healthcare provider, be sure he or she is aware that you may have shingles. This way, he or she can arrange to separate you from other patients.

Contact your health care provider if you have symptoms of shingles. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms and how long you have had them.

  • Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations).
  • Make a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
  • Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.
  • If your health care provider wants you to take a medication, ask if an over-the-counter product is right for you.
  • If your health care provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).

Here are some questions to ask your health care provider.

  • How can I prevent shingles? Am I eligible for the shingles vaccine?
  • If you are ages 50 to 60 and your health care professional recommends a shingles vaccine, ask why.
  • How long will my symptoms last? How do I know if I'm contagious?
  • What treatment, if any, are you recommending? What options are available?
  • What are the complications of shingles? Am I at high risk for complications?
  • If medication is recommended, how long will I need to take it? What are the possible side effects?
  • How long will it take for my symptoms to improve? Will they come back?
  • What are my follow-up plans and what symptoms should I report before my next appointment?


Also known as:

Shingles Vaccine
Shingles Shot
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