Shingles is a
painful skin rash . It is caused by the varicella zoster virus. Shingles usually appears in a band, a strip, or a small area on one side of the face or body. It is also called herpes zoster.
Shingles is most common in
older adults and people who have weak immune systems because of stress, injury,
certain medicines, or other reasons. Most people who get shingles will get
better and will not get it again.
Shingles occurs when the
virus that causes
chickenpox starts up again in your body. After you get
better from chickenpox, the virus "sleeps" (is dormant) in your nerve roots. In
some people, it stays dormant forever. In others, the virus "wakes up" when
disease, stress, or aging weakens the
immune system. Some medicines may trigger the virus to wake up and cause a shingles rash. It is not clear why this happens. But
after the virus becomes active again, it can only cause shingles, not
You can't catch shingles from someone else who has
shingles. But there is a small chance that a person with a shingles rash can spread the virus to another
person who hasn't had chickenpox and who hasn't gotten the chickenpox
Shingles symptoms happen in
stages. At first you may have a headache or be sensitive to light. You may also
feel like you have the flu but not have a fever.
Later, you may
feel itching, tingling, or pain in a certain area. That's where a band, strip,
or small area of rash may occur a few days later. The rash turns into clusters
of blisters. The blisters fill with fluid and then crust over. It takes 2 to 4
weeks for the blisters to heal, and they may leave scars. Some people only get
a mild rash. And some do not get a rash at all.
It's possible that
you could also feel dizzy or weak. Or you could have long-term pain or a rash
on your face, changes in your vision, changes in how well you can think, or a
rash that spreads. If you have any of these problems from shingles, call your
doctor right away.
Shingles is treated with medicines. These medicines include antiviral medicines and medicines for pain.
Starting antiviral medicine right away can help your rash heal faster and be less painful. So if you think you may have shingles, see your doctor right away.
Good home care also can help you feel better faster. Take care
of any skin sores, and keep them clean. Take your medicines as directed. If you are bothered by pain, tell your doctor. He or she may write a prescription for pain medicine or suggest an over-the-counter pain medicine.