FAQs

Get answers to the most often-asked questions about Shingles.

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What does the Shingles rash look like?

The Shingles rash is red and blistering. The fluid-filled blisters may first appear in a localized section on one side of the body. The rash can be made up of many blisters grouped together or blisters here and there on the skin. The rash commonly follows along one side of the torso in a band. This band, or dermatome, is the area where the nerve endings surface on the body.

See photos of the Shingles rash.

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What are the signs and symptoms of Shingles?

Shingles may begin with an itching, tingling, burning, or pain in a single area on one side of the body or face. Sometimes the pain is accompanied by a headache, or generally not feeling well. For those who experience the initial skin sensations 2 to 3 days later, a rash will usually appear in a band or strip on one side of the body. The Shingles rash can be red, blistering, and extremely painful, and it usually lasts up to 30 days.

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What causes Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you've ever had chickenpox, the virus that caused it, called the varicella-zoster virus, remains in your body. It lies dormant in your nerves and can come back, even years later, as the painful, blistering rash of Shingles. So if you've had chickenpox, the Shingles virus is already inside you. And as you get older, there's an even greater chance it will erupt into a blistering rash.

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Am I at risk for Shingles?

If you've ever had chickenpox, you're at risk for Shingles. And because 98% of adults in the U.S. have had chickenpox, most adults are at risk. The chickenpox virus, known as varicella, never leaves your body. It can reactivate years later and emerge as Shingles — a red, blistering rash often accompanied by pain, which may be deep and penetrating. And because your immune system can weaken with age, your risk of developing Shingles increases as you get older. It's important to remember that Shingles can happen to you at any time, even if you feel perfectly healthy.

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What should I do if I think I have Shingles?

If you think you have Shingles, talk to your health care professional as soon as possible. If you catch the disease in its early stages, health care professionals can give you medication that may alleviate the symptoms of Shingles. Medicines known as antivirals are most effective when administered within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms. They can reduce the time it takes the rash to heal and lessen the severity and duration of Shingles pain.

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Is Shingles painful?

In most cases, the Shingles rash is extremely painful; however, the level of pain can vary drastically from 1 person to the next. The pain can range from mild or moderate to severe. People who have had Shingles described their pain as sharp, stabbing, shooting, burning, and throbbing. In more severe cases, a person's skin can become hypersensitive, causing the person to experience discomfort from normal stimuli.

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I don't remember if I had chickenpox. Is there anything I can do to find out?

Since 98% of U.S. adults have had chickenpox, there's a good chance you've had it, too. Your health care professional can tell you if you've had chickenpox and if the virus that causes Shingles is inside you.

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How does age affect my risk of developing Shingles?

Your immune system can weaken as you get older, and this makes it easier for the Shingles virus to break through your defenses. That's why your risk for Shingles increases as you get older. In fact, the biggest increase in Shingles cases happens after 50, and 1 out of 2 people will have had Shingles by the time they reach 85.

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Is there a cure for Shingles?

No. Once you have Shingles, it has to run its course. But there are treatments, such as antivirals, that your health care professional may prescribe to help lessen the severity of the symptoms associated with the disease. If you think you have Shingles, talk to your health care professional as soon as possible.

There are also some things you can do to help make yourself feel more comfortable, but these treatments are only partially effective at alleviating the symptoms and shortening the duration of the disease.

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Can I avoid getting Shingles?

Shingles can strike at any time, even if you feel healthy. If you've had chickenpox at some point in the past, you're at risk for Shingles. And your risk increases as you get older. So talk to your health care professional and discuss your risk.

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What else increases my risk of getting Shingles?

Because the body's immune system is what keeps the chickenpox virus from reemerging as the painful, blistering rash of Shingles, anything that compromises your immune system can put you at increased risk.

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How many people get Shingles?

There are more than 1 million cases of Shingles each year in the United States, and 1 in 3 people will get the disease in their lifetime.

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Can there be complications from Shingles?

Yes, some people may develop long-term nerve pain, meaning that the pain can last for months or even years after the rash has healed. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN.

The rash might also leave permanent scarring or changes to the color of the skin.

Sometimes Shingles can result in other serious complications. In very rare cases, loss of hearing or vision impairment can occur when Shingles involves the ear or eye, respectively.

Learn more about the possible complications of Shingles.

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What is the treatment for Shingles?

There is no treatment that can cure Shingles, but there are some things you can do to stay as comfortable as possible if you have the disease.

Bathing daily and keeping your fingernails clean and trimmed can help you prevent bacterial infections and further damage to the skin from scratching the affected area.

Your health care professional may be able to prescribe antiviral pills that may help reduce the severity of your case if it's caught early enough. To work best, an antiviral should be administered within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms.

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Can I get Shingles more than once?

It is possible to get Shingles more than once. So if you've had Shingles before, it's still important to talk to your health care professional about your risk of getting it again.

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Is there anything I can do to help relieve the pain of Shingles?

While no treatment is guaranteed to completely relieve the pain, there are various ways you can try to make yourself comfortable.

Prescription medications like anti-inflammatory corticosteroids can help reduce the pain and swelling of the Shingles rash, especially when it affects the eye or facial nerve. Your health care professional may be able to prescribe antiviral pills that may help reduce the severity of your case if it's caught early enough. To work best, an antiviral should be administered within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Over-the-counter topical local anesthetics, when applied to the skin, may provide some relief to people suffering from the pain that occurs during or after Shingles start.

Cool, wet compresses may provide temporary comfort, and soothing baths and lotions, such as an oatmeal bath, starch bath, or calamine lotion, may help relieve itching and discomfort.

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Where does the Shingles rash usually appear?

The painful rash most often stretches along one side of the torso in a band. This band is the area where the nerve endings connect with the skin and is called a dermatome. But the Shingles rash can appear on any part of the body, including on the face.

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Is Shingles contagious?

You can't catch Shingles from someone else who has it. However, if you've never had chickenpox and you come into contact with someone who has Shingles when the rash is still blistering, it's possible for you to develop chickenpox.
If you have Shingles, you should avoid interaction with newborns, people who have problems with their immune system, and people who haven't had chickenpox, especially if you have Shingles blisters that have not yet crusted.

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If I have Shingles, how long will it last?

Shingles typically lasts anywhere from 2—4 weeks. That's usually how long it takes for the blisters to erupt, scab over, and completely heal. In some cases, Shingles can cause complications like
postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is long-term nerve pain that can last for months, even years after the rash heals.

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