Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

An Overview of Shingles

The varicella-zoster virus is responsible for causing chickenpox and shingles. Both chickenpox (varicella) and shingles (herpes zoster) are marked by an outbreak of rash or blisters on the skin.

People who have had chickenpox in the past are at risk for developing shingles because the virus remains inactive in certain nerve cells of the body and can become active later in life.

Recommended Related to Shingles


Read the Shingles article > >

Who Gets Shingles?

Scientists are not certain why the virus reactivates or why it only reactivates in about 20% of the people who have had chickenpox. There is evidence to suggest that a weakened immune system may cause the virus to break out of its dormant state, multiply, and move along nerve fibers to the skin. You may be at risk for shingles if you:

  • Have a weakened immune system (such as people with cancer or HIV)
  • Are over the age of 50
  • Have been ill
  • Are under significant stress
  • Have had a physical trauma

What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?

Early symptoms of shingles include:

  • Pain that is itching, stabbing, or shooting
  • Tingling feeling in or under the skin, which is red in the affected area
  • Fever, chills, and headache
  • Stomach upset

After a few days, a rash appears as a band or a cluster of raised dots, only on one side of the body. The rash often appears around the waistline or face. The rash eventually develops into red, fluid-filled, round, painful blisters. Usually, these blisters begin to dry out and crust within 7 to 10 days.

How Is Shingles Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose shingles based on the way it looks, since the rash usually appears in a band on one side of the body. Shingles also may be diagnosed with the scraping or swab of the fluid from the blisters that can be analyzed in a lab.

How Is Shingles Treated?

There is no cure for shingles, but treatments for the condition can help ease the associated pain and discomfort. Treatments also can help the healing of blisters and rash.

Antiviral medications such as Zovirex, Valtrex, and Famvir can ease discomfort and reduce the duration of symptoms. In most cases, it is recommended that antiviral drugs be started within 72 hours of the first sign of shingles.

Pain medications can also offer relief. Tylenol or over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) can be effective in relieving mild pain. For more severe cases of pain, prescription NSAIDs or narcotic pain relievers may be necessary. In some cases, steroids can be prescribed to ease the discomfort, inflammation, pain, redness, and itching associated with shingles' rash and blisters. Routine use, though, is not recommended.

Today on WebMD

varicella zoster virus
How to recognize this painful rash.
shingles rash
Symptoms, causes, and treatment.
nurse administering flu vaccine
8 questions, answered.
senior woman
Are you more likely to get it?
shingles rash
woman holding her lower back
New PHN Drug Cuts Lingering Shingles Pain
mature man with serious expression