Most of us have had chicken pox as kids. It is one of the most common childhood infectious diseases. Are you aware that the same varicella-zoster virus (VZV) that causes chickenpox also causes another rather painful disease? The ailment is called shingles, also known as Herpes zoster infection. In fact, if you have had chickenpox as a kid, it is quite likely that you may get shingles later in life. 

Of late, the spotlight is on spreading awareness about this condition and encouraging people to get vaccinated. So, let us learn about shingles, its risk factors, symptoms, and treatment. 

So, What Exactly Causes Shingles?

Shingles are caused by the reactivation of VZV. Once you are free from symptoms of chickenpox, the virus does not leave your body. It lies dormant in the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord. The virus can get reactivated during periods of low immunity.  Upon reactivation, the virus multiplies within the nerve cells leading to painful inflammation of the nerves. 

Risk Factors for Shingles 

Many factors put you at risk for shingles. These include:
  • Age more than 50 years
  • Mental stress
  • Infections
  • Conditions that weaken immunity or require immunosuppression such as cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and organ transplant 
  • Diabetes mellitus 

Signs and Symptoms of Shingles 

The disease starts with a painful, blistery rash. It mostly occurs on the chest, back, abdomen, or above one eye. The rash grows into clusters of vesicles. The rashes often burst, ulcerate, and ultimately dry out. A few of the common signs observed in the patients of shingles are:

  • You may feel painful burning, itching, or prickly sensations in different parts of the body, leading to red, patchy, painful rashes or blisters. You may feel that you are getting pricked by needles in your feet and legs (paresthesias). 
  • You may have severe pain that lasts more than 4 weeks. The pain can be so severe that it can get tough to carry out daily activities. 

If your immunity is good, the blisters will most likely clear out in 7 to 10 days. The rashes will completely go away within 2 to 4 weeks. 

The condition is usually diagnosed by the unique-looking rash and microscopically examining the fluid from the blister that contains the virus.  Complications can occur in 10% of the affected people such as blindness, neuropathic pain, and stroke. 

Treatment for Shingles 

Anti-viral medicines such as acyclovir, brivudin, valacyclovir, or famciclovir are commonly used to relieve the symptoms of shingles. For mild pain, painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults 50 years and above get two doses of the shingles vaccine called Shingrix. Adults 19 years and older with weak immune systems because of any disease or therapy should also get two doses of Shingrix

Should You Get the Vaccine?

According to the CDC, you should get the vaccine even if you have a past history of:

  • Having shingles
  • Receiving Zostavax* (zoster vaccine live)
  • Receiving chickenpox vaccine

Avoid getting the vaccine if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Currently have singles
  • Have ever had a severe allergic reaction after a dose of Shingrix


Shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash with blisters, can occur anywhere on your body. Typically, it looks like a single stripe of blisters that mostly occurs on one side of the body. In most cases, it usually begins around the left side or the right side of your torso. The color of the rash may appear red, dark pink, dark brown, or purplish, depending on your skin tone. Shingles will not happen unless you've had chickenpox. Also, it’s rare to experience shingles more than once.

Contact your healthcare provider or ask a doctor online to know more about shingles and their prevention. If you have a further query or in case you need one-to-one guidance from an expert, you can Consult a Specialist online at Ask a Doctor 24x7.

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Disclaimer: Information provided on this page is not intended to substitute for proper medical advice provided by your healthcare professional. This is only for informational purposes. 

About the Author

Neha Garg

Neha Garg is a clinical dietician and health writer with an outstanding academic and clinical background. A post-graduate from the prestigious Lady Irwin College, she was also a Delhi University topper. With a work experience spanning more than a decade, she has worked for renowned healthcare organizations such as Indraprastha Apollo Hospital and HealthifyMe. An avid reader and health enthusiast, she also develops customized diet plans along with personal diet consultations. Presently, she is working with EbixCash as a senior medical writer.

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