shingles blisters on chest
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What Is Shingles?

When you have chickenpox, the virus that caused it sticks around, even after you get better. Later on, that virus can trigger another infection called shingles, which is known for a painful rash with blisters.

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child with shingles blisters on face
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Myth: Only Older People Get Shingles

While the infection is more common in people over 50, anyone who’s had chickenpox can get it, even children. Younger people are more likely to have it if their immune systems are weak because of certain medicines or illnesses like cancer or HIV.

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crowd walking on street
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Myth: Shingles Is Rare

About a third of all Americans will get it in their lifetimes. That’s 1 million per year. Half of people who reach age 85 will have had shingles at some point.

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shingles blisters close up
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Myth: It’s Not Contagious

The open blisters of the rash can’t pass on shingles, but they can spread the chickenpox virus to someone who’s never had it. And that can lead to a later shingles outbreak.

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chicken pox shingles diptych
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Myth: Chickenpox Is the Same Thing

They’re caused by the same virus, but shingles and chickenpox are not the same illness. Chickenpox brings on hundreds of itchy blisters that heal in 5 to 7 days, usually in children. A shingles rash can last about a month.

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woman with sore shoulder
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Myth: It’s Gone in a Few Days

About 40% of people who get shingles feel a burning, shooting pain for months or years after the rash is gone. It’s called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. Your doctor can help you manage it with medication and other treatment.

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pill in hand
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Myth: You Can’t Treat It

If you take an antiviral medicine (acyclovir, famciclovir, valacyclovir) in the first 3 days after the rash appears, that may ease the pain and help you get rid of it sooner. The earlier you start, the better it works. Prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers, corticosteroids, and nerve block treatments might also help.

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shingles sites on body
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Myth: You Can’t Get It More Than Once

It doesn’t happen often, but it’s possible. New bouts usually show up on different parts of your body. A shingles vaccine could lower your chances of a second infection, even if you get the shot after you’ve already had shingles.

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woman in bed with fever
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Myth: The Rash Is the Biggest Problem

Aside from nerve pain caused by PHN, your skin can get infected, and you might have scarring, headache, fever, stomachache, or muscle weakness. Talk to your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms so you can get treatment.

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filling syringe from vial
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Fact: A Vaccine Can Help Prevent It

It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get shingles, but a vaccine can lower your chances by more than 90%. And if you do get the condition, it might not affect you as much. The CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 or older get two doses of the vaccine Shingrix, 2 to 6 months apart, unless they currently have shingles, are pregnant, or a test shows they’ve never had chickenpox.

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businessman running
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Fact: Stress Can Trigger Shingles

Stress can weaken your immune system and make you more likely to have an outbreak. Or it may simply run you down until you get a cold or some other illness that triggers one. And once you have shingles, stress can make the pain worse.

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glaucoma vision loss
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Fact: It Can Cause Vision Loss

If shingles makes your eye or eyelid red, swollen, or painful -- sometimes called ocular shingles -- it can be serious. Get medical help as soon as possible because it could lead to glaucoma, scarring, or even blindness. Blisters on the tip of your nose can be an early warning sign.

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skin infection
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Fact: The Rash Can Get Infected

If blister pain and redness don’t get better -- or get worse -- over a couple of weeks, you could have a bacterial skin infection. See your doctor right away. It can make you heal more slowly and scar your skin.

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facial palsy
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Fact: Shingles Can Hurt Your Brain

It doesn’t happen often, but shingles around your eyes, ears, forehead, or nose can sometimes lead to brain swelling, paralyze part of your face, or affect your hearing and balance. In rare cases, an infection in these areas can lead to a stroke or meningitis (when tissues around your brain and spinal cord get infected and inflamed).

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/07/2018 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 07, 2018

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) Biophoto Associates / Science Source

2) Clinical Photography, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, UK / Science Source

3) Doug McKinlay / Getty Images

4) DR P. MARAZZI / Science Source

5) (Left to right)  Lowell Georgia / Science Source, VICTOR DE SCHWANBERG / Science Source

6) spukkato / Thinkstock

7) Abdal Rhisang Alfarid / EyeEm / Getty Images

8) SCIEPRO / Getty Images

9) Tom Merton / Getty Images

10) bdspn / Thinkstock

11) Westend61 / Getty Images

12) Kichigin / Thinkstock

13) Dr P. Marazzi  /Science Source

14) Watney Collection / Medical Images

 

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: “Shingles.”

CDC: “Shingles Vaccination,” “Shingles (Herpes Zoster).”

Cleveland Clinic “Do You Know the Truth About Shingles?”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Shingles can strike twice. Will the shingles vaccine help?”

Mayo Clinic: “Shingles.”

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: “Facts About Chickenpox and Shingles for Adults,” “Shingles Myths and Facts for Consumers.”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Shingles: Hope Through Research.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 07, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.