You can think of shingles as a one-two punch of infections. Anyone who gets it had a case of chickenpox first, often decades earlier. These two conditions come from the same virus, called varicella zoster.

Causes of Shingles

  • When the varicella zoster virus gets into your body, the first problem it causes is chickenpox.

  • You may think of it as a childhood disease, but adults can get it, too.

  • After chickenpox runs its course, the virus moves into the nerve tissues near your spinal cord and brain, where it stays.

  • We don’t know why, but sometimes, years later, the virus wakes up and travels along nerve fibers to your skin.

  • That’s when it lands its second punch: shingles, also called herpes zoster.

Symptoms of Shingles

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • Fever, chills, and headache

  • Itching

  • Raised dots on your skin and redness in that area

  • Stabbing or shooting pain

  • Tingling or burning feeling in or under your skin

  • Upset stomach

Diagnosis of Shingles

Your doctor can diagnose shingles by asking about your medical history and your symptoms and by doing a physical exam. They can also test small amounts of material from your blisters.

Is Shingles Contagious?

  • Yes. You can spread the varicella zoster virus to people who’ve never had chickenpox and haven’t been vaccinated.

  • You’re contagious until all of the sores have crusted over. Until then, avoid pregnant women who may not have had chickenpox or the vaccine, people with weak immune systems, and newborns.

Shingles Vaccine

  • The FDA has the Shingrix vaccine and it’s considered more than 90% effective.

  • The CDC recommends two doses of Shingrix for the prevention of shingles and its complications in healthy adults 50 or older as well as those 18 years of age and older who are or will be immunodeficient or immunosuppressed due to disease or therapy.

  • You you get it even if you’ve had shingles before.

  • You should also get it even if you already had the earlier Zostavax vaccine, which was removed from the market in 2020.

Treatment of Shingles

Antiviral drugs can help you heal faster and cut your risk of complications. They’re most effective if you take them within 3 days of the start of a rash, so see your doctor as soon as possible. You’ll probably get one of these three medications to fight the virus:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)

  • Famciclovir (Famvir)

  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)

Treatments for shingles pain can include:

  • Anticonvulsant medicines like gabapentin (Neurontin)

  • Antidepressants like amitriptyline

  • Colloidal oatmeal baths

  • Cool compresses

  • Medicated lotion

  • Numbing medications like lidocaine

  • Over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen

  • Prescription painkillers like codeine

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