Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox).
If you’re one of the approximately 99% of adults 50 years or older who have had chickenpox, the virus that causes shingles is already inside your body. It can reactivate at any time, and your risk increases as your immune system naturally declines with age.
Shingles may lead to long-term complications such as debilitating pain that lasts for months or even years. In rare cases, serious, long-term eye or hearing issues can occur.
If you’re one of the 99% of adults over 50 years old who have had chickenpox, the virus that causes shingles is inside your body and can reactivate at any time. 1 in every 3 people in the US will get shingles in their lifetime. No matter how healthy you feel, your immune system declines as you age, and that puts you at an increased risk for shingles.
Shingles typically produces a painful rash that blisters and scabs over in 7 to 10 days; it will usually clear up within 2 to 4 weeks. Most people who get shingles experience acute pain, and many describe the pain as aching, burning, stabbing, or shock-like.
However, some people experience complications that can lead to long-term health problems. The most common complication is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), severe pain that can last for months or even years in the area of the healed rash. Other possible complications include scarring, complications with vision (if the rash appears around the eye), and partial weakness/paralysis of the areas served by affected nerves.
Several antiviral medicines—acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir—are available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of the illness. These medicines are most effective if you start taking them as soon as possible after the rash appears. If you think you have shingles, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment.
Pain medicine, either over-the-counter or a prescription from your doctor, may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths (a lukewarm bath mixed with ground up oatmeal) may help relieve itching.
SHINGRIX is a vaccine that can help prevent shingles. It is given as a 2-dose series to adults 50 years and older. In clinical trials it was proven to be up to 90% effective in preventing shingles in adults 50 years and older.