Shingles

Shingles

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. After the chickenpox clears, the virus stays in the body. If the virus reactivates (wakes up), the result is shingles — a painful, blistering rash.

Shingles is most common in older adults. A vaccine, which can prevent shingles, is available to people ages 50 and older. Dermatologists recommend this vaccine for everyone 50 and older.

If shingles develops, dermatologists recommend treatment.

If you get shingles, an anti-viral medicine can make symptoms milder and shorter. The medicine may even prevent long-lasting nerve pain. Anti-viral medicine is most effective when started within 3 days of seeing the rash.

Shingles: Signs and symptoms

Shingles tends to cause more pain and less itching than chickenpox. Common signs (what you see) and symptoms (what you feel) are:

Shingles: Who gets and causes

Who gets shingles?

A person must have had chickenpox to get shingles. Some people who have had chickenpox have a higher risk of getting shingles. These people: 

Some illnesses and medical treatments can weaken a person's immune system and increase the risk. These include: 

What causes shingles?

The virus that causes chickenpox also causes shingles. After a person gets rid of the chickenpox, the virus stays in the body. The virus travels to the nerves where it sleeps. Shingles appears when the virus wakes up. It is not clear what reactivates or "wakes up" the virus. A short-term weakness in immunity may cause this.

Shingles is much less contagious than chickenpox. But a person with shingles can still spread the virus. Anyone who has not had chickenpox can get this virus. 

If the virus spreads to someone who has not had it, the person will get chickenpox — not shingles. Newborns and those with a weak immune system have the highest risk of getting the virus from someone who has shingles.

This virus spreads when the person has uncovered, open blisters and someone touches the blisters. Once the blisters form scabs, the person is no longer contagious.

Shingles: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome

How do dermatologists diagnose shingles?

To diagnose shingles, a dermatologist will look at the skin and ask some questions.

If there is any doubt, the dermatologist may scrape a blister to get a sample. This sample will be examined under a microscope. Also, the dermatologist may send the fluid from a blister to a laboratory for testing.

If you have shingles on your face, see a doctor immediately. Without treatment, shingles can damage an eye.

How do dermatologists treat shingles?

Without treatment, the rash clears in a few weeks. Dermatologists, however, strongly recommend treatment. Without it, many people get pain, numbness, itching, and tingling that can last for months — or years.

It is best to get treatment immediately. Treatment can include:

Treatments for pain after the rash clears: Certain anti-depressants, pain relievers, anesthetic creams and patches, and anti-seizure medicines can help. 

Ask your dermatologist about possible side effects (health problems that can result from the medicines).

Outcome

Patients with shingles rarely need a hospital stay. But shingles can cause serious problems such as:

Shingles: Tips for managing

When talking about shingles, dermatologists recommend the following to their patients:

Pain relief

To relieve the pain and itching of shingles, you can:

Prevention

A shingles vaccine is available for people ages 50 years and older. The benefits of getting this vaccine include the following:

The Centers for Disease Control recommends this vaccine for everyone 60 and older.