Shingles or herpes zoster is a painful rash that is caused by a virus. The varicella-zoster virus is the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, this virus can lay dormant in your system. Certain things may cause the virus to be reactivated, and it will return as shingles.

Shingles can occur anywhere on the body, but it follows along a nerve pathway known as a dermatome. The most commonly affected area is along the rib cage of just one side of the body. The rash often has a blistered appearance and can be quite painful.

Symptoms of shingles include:

  • Rash that begins a few days after a painful skin sensation
  • Itching, tingling, painful, or burning sensation of the skin
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Mild flu-like symptoms

Other than having had chickenpox, a few other things can increase the likelihood of developing shingles. These include:

  • Age over 50
  • Medical conditions that weaken the immune system
  • Undergoing cancer treatment
  • Certain medications

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Generally, shingles will heal without problems; however, there are potential complications. These include:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia
  • Vision loss
  • Neurological problems
  • Skin infections

Shingles can be prevented with a vaccine. Talk with your healthcare provider to decide if the shingles vaccine is suitable for you.

If you get shingles, it can be treated with antiviral medication. The medication will help shingles not last as long or be as severe as it would have been without medication. Additional treatment may be needed for the pain associated with shingles. 

You may worry if you are contagious while you have shingles. There are certain groups of people you will need to avoid until your shingles rash has dried up. These include:

  • Anyone that has never had chickenpox or been vaccinated for chickenpox
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system
  • Newborns