All About Shingles

Shingles Rash

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a tingling or painful rash caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox (varicella-zoster) virus. It appears as groups of blisters in a well-defined area and usually on only one side of the body. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. Here is some more important information about this virus.

Who Gets Shingles?

10-20% of all people will get shingles at some time in their lives. Although the incidence increases with increasing age, it can happen to anyone. Advancing age, immunosuppression, fatigue, and emotional upset can all bring on an episode.

What Causes Shingles?

When you catch chickenpox, you have contracted the varicella-zoster virus. After the symptoms disappear, the virus lies dormant in certain nerve cells in the body, causing no symptoms. In some people, the virus reactivates and causes the painful blistering rash that is shingles. Why this happens to some people and not others is not fully understood.

If My Child Or I Had The Chickenpox Vaccination, Can It Reactivate And Cause Shingles?

The vaccination contains a weakened but live form of the varicella-zoster virus. It can reactivate later and cause shingles, but at a much lower rate than if you got the natural “wild” form of the virus.

Is Shingles Serious?

In most people, shingles clears up in a few weeks and seldom recurs. However, if it involves the nerve that crosses the eye, it can affect the cornea and an ophthalmologist should be consulted. Vesicles (blisters) on the side or tip of the nose are a sign that this nerve area is involved.

Another complication is called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. People with PHN have pain that lasts for weeks, months or even years after the shingles rash has healed. Most people under 30 do not get this complication. By 40-years old, the risk of PHN lasting more than one month increases to 33%, and by age 70 the risk increases to 74%. This is why patients over 60-years old are advised to get the shingles vaccine. The vaccine is not a treatment for shingles and will not help anyone who already has PHN. The shingles vaccine does not totally prevent a person from getting shingle but it lowers the risk of reactivation by about 50% and the risk of developing PHN by nearly 70%.

How Is Shingles Treated?

If you think you may have shingles, you should visit your healthcare provider right away because treatment works better if it is begun within the first 48-72 hours of infection. Antiviral pills such as valacyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir) are the mainstay of treatment. Other things such as cool compresses and ibuprofen can help make you more comfortable.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles itself is not contagious. However, as it is actually the chicken pox virus that has been reactivated, a person who has not had the disease or the chickenpox vaccine can catch chickenpox by touching the blisters of the shingles outbreak. Fortunately, except for the rare adult who has never had the natural disease and yet has not been vaccinated, or the child who has not been vaccinated (whether because s/he is too young or the parents declined vaccinations), most people are immune to chickenpox.

At Advanced Dermatology Care, our dermatologists Dr. Kenneth Egan, Dr. Rebecca Hall and PA, Melissa Raue specialize in all of your family’s skin care needs in general medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology including shingles, impetigo, acne, skin cancer, eczema, warts, moles, fungal nail infections, rashes and scars. Our offices are located in the Fairfield County, CT towns of Danbury, Norwalk and Ridgefield.

– Melissa Raue, PA-C



Topics: Blog, Dermatology