In the Spotlight
Avoid the Pain of Shingles
Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox can develop shingles
Shingles is a painful infection. Some people have the virus hiding in their nerve tissue, and if conditions are right, the virus "awakens." This may cause a few blisters on the skin or a big rash that is only on one side of the body. The rash may be on the chest and back, at the waist, on the upper arm, or the side of the face and scalp. In healthy people, the rash goes away in 2 to 4 weeks.
Shingles is not likely to spread, but it may cause chickenpox. The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. However, not everyone who had chickenpox will develop shingles.
What are the risk factors for shingles?
Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. But your risk is greater if you:
Are age 50 or older
Have an illness that weakens your immune system, such as HIV infection
Have cancer, especially leukemia or lymphoma
Take medicines that suppress your immune system, such as steroids or those given after an organ transplant
Can shingles be prevented?
A vaccine reduces your risk of getting shingles. Half as many people get shingles after being vaccinated. Among those who are treated and then develop shingles, only one third develop after shingles pain. If you're older you when you're vaccinated and you get shingles, your outbreak will be less severe.
What is the treatment for shingles?
Quick treatment with an antiviral drug decreases the severity and length of time of acute pain. Antivirals work best when taken 24 to 72 hours after the rash appears. Corticosteroids and pain relievers may provide pain control.
How do you know when shingles is coming on?
The early signs of shingles can easily be mistaken for another illness. You may be familiar with some of these, such as burning or shooting pain in the skin; a numb or tingling feeling; mild flu-like symptoms; then a rash or cluster of blisters appears. For most people, shingles will disappear without major problems, but there is a chance you can develop after-shingles pain or postherpetic neuralgia.
What causes after-shingles pain?
After-shingles pain occurs because the virus that causes shingles damages specific nerves in your body underneath the skin. The pain can last for a long time, even months or years. Severe pain can occur on or around the rash. It's often described as burning, aching, itching, or sharp.
Who is most likely to develop after-shingles pain?
After you have shingles, your chances of developing after-shingles pain increase with age.
If you're over 50, you have a more than 50 percent chance of developing after-shingles pain
If you're over 80, you have an 80 percent chance of developing after-shingles pain
Others at higher risk include those who had felt pain before the rash appeared. Those who have had a severe rash within a few days of shingles infection are also at higher risk.
How serious is after-shingles pain?
Because of after-shingles pain, your skin may become sensitive to changes in temperature. You may find the feeling of clothing painful. Daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and grooming may be unpleasant. Going shopping, cooking, traveling, and sports can be limited by severe after-shingles pain.
Make sure to reach out to your doctor using Secure Messaging (sign in required) if you need to talk about more about managing the pain.
Is there a treatment for after-shingles pain?
The good news is help is available. Effective treatment choices, including getting enough rest and taking medications, may relieve after-shingles pain. Each medication works differently and has its own likely benefits.
It's important for those suffering from after-shingles pain to schedule an appointment with their doctor.
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
Shingles vaccine: Should I get it? (Mayo Clinic)
Updated October 8, 2020