Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Understanding Shingles -- the Basics

What Is Shingles?

Shingles (herpes zoster) results from a reactivation of the virus that also causes chickenpox. With shingles, the first thing you may notice is a tingling sensation or pain on one side of your body or face. Painful skin blisters then erupt on only one side of your face or body along the distribution of nerves on the skin. Typically, this occurs along your chest, abdomen, back, or face, but it may also affect your neck, limbs, or lower back. The area can be very painful, itchy, and tender. After one to two weeks, the blisters heal and form scabs, although the pain often continues.

The deep pain that follows after the infection has run its course is known as postherpetic neuralgia. It can continue for months or even years, especially in older people. The incidence of shingles and of postherpetic neuralgia rises with increasing age. More than 50% of cases occur in people over 60. Shingles usually occurs only once, although it has been known to recur in some people.

Recommended Related to Shingles

Understanding Postherpetic Neuralgia -- the Basics

Neuralgia is nerve pain that occurs when a nerve is damaged, irritated or inflamed. The pain spreads along neural pathways, may be brief or chronic, and can range from mild to outright unbearable. A relatively common type of neuralgia is postherpetic neuralgia, which strikes after the infection known as shingles (herpes zoster). Typically, people with this form of neuralgia experience a continuous burning sensation. Pain may be very severe and long lasting. Any pain that persists for more than a...

Read the Understanding Postherpetic Neuralgia -- the Basics article > >

What Causes Shingles?

Shingles arises from varicella-zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Following a bout of chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the spinal nerve cells. But it can be reactivated years later when the immune system is suppressed by:

  • Physical or emotional trauma
  • A serious illness
  • Certain medications

Medical science doesn't understand why the virus becomes reactivated in some people and not in others.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on March 14, 2014
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

chafing
Pictures and symptoms of the red, scaly rash.
woman with dyed dark hair
What it says about your health.
 
woman with cleaning products
Top causes of the itch that rashes.
atopic dermatitus
Identify and treat common skin problems.
 
itchy skin
Article
shingles rash on skin
Article
 
woman with skin tag
Quiz
Woman washing face
Video
 
woman washing her hair in sink
Video
close up of womans bare neck
Tools
 
Feet
Slideshow
woman with face cream
Quiz