Shingles (herpes zoster) is a non-contagious, painful, and blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox. Having shingles is very common, and about half of the American population has shingles before they are 80 years old.
Whenever an individual is diagnosed with the chickenpox virus, it remains dormant in certain nerves in the body. When the virus becomes active again, shingles occurs.


The first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling, or burning. The pain and burning may be severe and is usually present before any rash appears.

Red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters, form in most people.
  • The blisters break, forming small sores that begin to dry and form crusts. The crusts fall off in 2 to 3 weeks. Scarring is rare.
  • The rash usually involves a narrow area from the spine around to the front of the belly area or chest.
  • The rash may involve the face, eyes, mouth, and ears.

Other symptoms may include:
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever and chills
  • General ill feeling
  • Genital sores
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes)

An individual may also experience pain, muscle weakness, and a rash involving different parts of the face if shingles affects a nerve in the face. The symptoms may include:
  • Difficulty moving some of the muscles in the face
  • Drooping eyelid (ptosis)
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of eye motion
  • Taste problems
  • Vision problems



Reasons the chickenpox virus becomes active again in the body are not yet clear. Often, there is only one attack that occurs.Shingles may develop in any age group, but someone is more likely to develop the condition if:
  • You are older than 60
  • You had chickenpox before age 1
  • Your immune system is weakened by medications or disease
If an adult or child has direct contact with the shingles rash and did not have chickenpox as a child or a chickenpox vaccine, they can develop chickenpox, not shingles. PubMed Health


Persistent paint is a common symptom is common for those over 60 years old. If the individual's shingles persist for months or years and is server, it is called postherpetic neuralgia. Outbreaks that start on the face or near the eyes may cause hearing or vision problems. They can also lead to bacterial infection, which may lead to scarring. The bacterial scarring may even become more serious than the shingles virus itself. It should cause conditions, such as toxic shock syndrome, which is an infection that destroys soft tissue under the skin. Other effects are loss of sleep, burning waves of pain, and interference with basic life activities can cause depression.


A health care provider may prescribe a medicine that fights the virus, called an antiviral drug. This drug helps reduce pain, prevent complications, and shorten the course of the disease.

Some known antiviral drugs include:

  • Acyclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Andvalacyclovir

The medications should be started within 72 hours of when a person first feels pain or burning. It is best to start taking them before the blisters appear. The drugs are usually given in pill form, and in high doses. Some people may need to receive the medicine through a vein (by IV).

Strong anti-inflammatory medicines called corticosteroids, such as prednisone, may be used to reduce swelling and pain. These drugs do not work in all patients.
Other medicines may include:
  • Antihistamines to reduce itching (taken by mouth or applied to the skin)
  • Pain medicines
  • Zostrix, a cream containing capsaicin (an extract of pepper) that may reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia

Cool wet compresses can be used to reduce pain. Soothing baths and lotions, such as colloidal oatmeal bath, starch baths, or calamine lotion, may help to relieve itching and discomfort.
Resting in bed until the fever goes down is recommended.
  • Keep the skin clean.
  • Do not reuse contaminated items.
  • Wash non=disposable items in boiling water or disinfect them before using them again
An individual may need to stay away from people while the sores are oozing to avoid infecting those who have never had chickenpox -- especially pregnant women.

Though the virus might last for years, shingles is not permanent, so a healthy person may be affected with shingles, and it will go away on its own without any complications. Afterward, the virus is not likely to come back.

Similar Terminology

Chicken Pox


Shingles Info
PubMed Health