Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles results in a rash that can be mildly itchy to intensely painful. The rash appears as raised dots that develop into blisters, then dry out and crust over.
Who Gets Shingles?
Shingles occurs in people who had chickenpox previously; in cases of shingles, the dormant (inactive) varicella-zoster virus becomes active again.
Shingles can occur at any age, but the risk increases as you get older. About half of all cases appear in people age 60 or older.
What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?
The first sign of shingles usually is a tingling feeling, itchiness, or stabbing pain on the skin. A rash appears after a few days as a band or patch of raised dots on the side of the body or face. The rash develops into small, fluid-filled blisters that begin to dry out and crust over within several days. When the rash is at its peak, symptoms can range from mild itching to extreme and intense pain.
How Is Shingles Diagnosed?
A doctor can use laboratory tests to determine the presence of the varicella-zoster virus or may diagnose shingles by symptoms and physical exam alone.
How Is Shingles Treated?
Treatment for shingles may include antiviral drugs, steroids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and topical agents. Sometimes, additional medicines, like ibuprofen, may be needed to help control the pain.
The severity and duration of an attack of shingles can be significantly reduced by immediate treatment with the antiviral drugs acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir). These drugs may also help stave off the painful after-effects of shingles, a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia.
Is Shingles Contagious?
You cannot catch shingles from someone who has it. But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have never had chickenpox and never been vaccinated against it.