Shingles Fequently Asked Questions
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful skin disease. It begins with pain or tingling on the skin, progresses to an itchy rash, and can eventually cause blisters. Shingles is caused by reactivation of the chicken pox virus. Shingles is also called varicella-zoster. It usually affects only one side of the body. Shingles may also cause fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.
Who can get shingles?
Shingles is most common in people between the ages of 60 and 80. Half of people over age 80 have had shingles. Only people who had chickenpox as a child get shingles. Other people who may have increased vulnerability to shingles:
- HIV victims
- Cancer patients
- Leukemia patients
- Lymphoma patients
- Kidney or bone marrow transplant patients
- Patients who take steroids or arthritis medications
What causes shingles?
Varicella-zoster is the virus that causes chickenpox. Although the symptoms of chicken pox go away, the virus remains in the body, hiding in spinal nerve cells. Later in life, or if the immune system becomes depressed, the virus can re-emerge from the spinal nerve cells and attack nerve endings in the skin.
Is shingles contagious?
Shingles is not contagious to people who have already had chickenpox. Shingles is only contagious to someone who was not previously infected with chickenpox, and it is only transmitted through contact with blister fluid, not through coughing, sneezing, or casual contact. A vaccine against varicella-zoster is available to protect people who have never had chicken pox from shingles.
How can I reduce the chance of transmitting the virus?
Keep the rash covered. Do not touch, scratch, or itch the rash. Wash your hands frequently.
How long does shingles last?
Usually the blisters will erupt, and then crust over one to two weeks later. After another two weeks, the sores will usually disappear. The pain generally decreases over the next few months, but may persist for months or years. This persistent pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN.
Can I get shingles twice?
In a normal, healthy person, shingles rarely occurs more than once.
What are some natural ways I can alleviate my shingles pain?
- Take cool to lukewarm baths. Adding oatmeal to the bath can help.
- Soothing lotions like calamine can be applied
- Wear loose cotton clothing
- Avoid getting hot or sweaty
- Take ibuprofen to reduce pain and fever
How common is shingles?
There are about one million cases of shingles in the United States each year.
Why does shingles affect only a limited area?
The shingles virus travels from the spinal nerves along a nerve path to the skin. Usually the virus travels on only one nerve path, and thus is limited to a certain area of the skin. The most common areas affected by shingles are:
- One side of the torso
- One side of the face, around the nose and eyes