October 2022

Know the Symptoms of Shingles

If you’ve had chickenpox before, then you’re at risk of developing shingles. In fact, 1 out of 3 people in the U.S. will develop shingles at some point in their life.

Causes and symptoms

The varicella zoster virus causes both chickenpox and shingles. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. Years later, it can become active again and cause shingles.

Shingles appears as a painful rash on one side of your face or body. It may be a stripe that wraps around the left or right side of your body. The rash may cover one side of your face. Once the rash shows up, blisters develop. The blisters scab over within about 7 to 10 days. It can take 2 to 4 weeks for the rash to go away.

Other signs of shingles include:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Chills

  • Upset stomach

Some people have an increased risk of getting shingles. Your risk rises as you age. If you have a weakened immune system due to a medical condition or medicine that suppresses your immune system, then your risk for shingles is higher.

Treatment

There are a few antiviral medicines that can treat shingles and shorten how long your symptoms last. Pain medicine can help reduce the discomfort you may experience. You can also try soothing measures such as wet compresses, calamine lotion, and baths with colloidal oatmeal to help relieve the itching.

If you think you may have shingles, contact your healthcare provider right away. The antiviral medicines work best when you start taking them as soon as the rash appears.

Shingles vaccine prevents complications

The most common complication that can occur from shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). About 10 to 18% of people with shingles develop PHN, which causes severe pain in the area where the rash occurred, even after the rash goes away. The Shingrix vaccine helps prevent both shingles and PHN. Shingrix is approved for adults ages 50 and older with a healthy immune system. Ask your provider if the vaccine could be right for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2022
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