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Shingles Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Shingles Disease

Shingles, caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is a painful rash that typically appears on one side of the body. While often associated with older adults, it can affect individuals of any age who have had chickenpox. 

Understanding its symptoms, risk factors, and available treatments is crucial for managing this condition effectively. Explore this blog to gain insights into shingles and its impact on health.

What are Shingles?

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. The rash typically appears as a band of blisters on one part of the body. After childhood chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body. In adulthood, it can reactivate as shingles.

What are the Symptoms of Shingles?

The first symptoms of shingles often start with pain and burning, typically affecting one side of the body in a specific skin area known as a dermatome. A subsequent rash, though not always red, may appear dark pink, dark brown, or purplish, depending on skin tone.

The characteristics of a shingles rash outlined by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) are:

  • The rash typically on one side, such as the chest, abdomen, back, or face
  • Itchiness
  • Fluid-filled blisters prone to breaking easily
  • Burning sensation

Additional symptoms per the American Academy of Dermatology may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness

Other complications (which are rare):

  • Eye involvement requiring immediate treatment
  • Ramsay Hunt syndrome symptoms
  • Bacterial skin infection

Shingles can manifest in various areas, such as:

  • Face and ears: Potential for complications like loss of hearing or facial muscle weakness.
  • Scalp: Sensitivity, hair loss if left untreated.
  • Buttocks: Unilateral rash with initial tingling, itching, or pain, possibly followed by red rash or blisters.
  • Eye: Ophthalmic herpes zoster with serious risks like vision loss and corneal scarring.
  • Back: Rash along one side of the back or lower back

You Can Also Read: Types of Skin Problems & their Solutions

What are the Causes of Shingles?

Shingles arise from the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox previously, shingles can occur when this virus becomes active again in your system.

The exact cause of why shingles affect certain individuals remains uncertain. Its prevalence tends to be higher among older adults due to reduced immunity to infections.

Potential factors that may increase the risk of shingles include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Emotional stress
  • Advancing age
  • Undergoing cancer treatments or significant surgery

How are Shingles Diagnosed?

Shingles are typically diagnosed by doctors through a thorough examination of your rashes and blisters, accompanied by inquiries into your medical background.

Occasionally, if necessary, your physician might require a skin sample or fluid from the blisters for testing. This process entails the use of a sterile swab to gather tissue or fluid, which is then sent to a medical lab to validate the virus’s presence.

What is the Treatment for Shingles?

There is no cure for shingles, but various treatments help manage symptoms, such as:

Antiviral Medications

  • Acyclovir
  • Famciclovir 
  • Valacyclovir

These drugs can alleviate discomfort and shorten symptom duration if taken within 72 hours of the first sign of shingles. They might lessen the chance of developing postherpetic neuralgia as well.

Over-the-counter pain medications

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen 

These medications can provide relief from pain associated with shingles.

Other medications

  • Antibacterial drugs for bacterial infections resulting from the shingles rash
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs like prednisone for shingles affect sensitive areas such as the eyes or face.

You Can Also Read: Suffering From Tinea Cruris Or Jock Itch (Groin Ringworm)

What are the Complications of Shingles?

While shingles can cause considerable discomfort, it’s essential to remain vigilant about potential complications, like:

  • Eye damage may arise if a rash or blister develops near the eye, with the cornea being especially susceptible.
  • Open blisters can lead to bacterial skin infections, which can be severe.
  • Pneumonia is a potential complication.
  • Shingles affecting nerves in the head can result in Ramsay Hunt syndrome, potentially causing partial facial paralysis or hearing loss if left untreated. However, timely treatment within 72 hours often leads to complete recovery.
  • Serious and life-threatening complications like brain or spinal cord inflammation, such as encephalitis or meningitis, are possible.

How can you Prevent Shingles?

Vaccination can prevent severe shingles symptoms. Two doses of the chickenpox vaccination are required for children.

 Adults without prior chickenpox should also receive it. While not guaranteed, the vaccine prevents chickenpox in 9 out of 10 cases.

Adults over 50 should get the shingles vaccine to avoid severe symptoms. Consult your doctor to determine if you need the shingles vaccine.


Shingles can be a painful and debilitating condition, but with proper understanding, prevention, and medical care, individuals can effectively manage and overcome its challenges for a healthier future. It is always advisable to seek medical help from an experienced dermatologist. Timely care and help can ensure an appropriate diagnosis and treatment of your condition. 

At the CK Birla Hospital, we ensure patients get holistic medical support which includes treatment in a compassionate environment. This patient-centric approach not only helps patients heal better but also ensures they are aware of the preventive measures as well. In case you need to consult a dermatologist, reach out to us, at the CK Birla Hospital.


Can You Get Shingles More Than Once?

Shingles can indeed recur several times. Although uncommon, individuals who have had shingles can experience a recurrence due to the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus.

Are Shingles Contagious?

Shingles can be contagious, but it only spreads through direct contact with the rash during the blister phase. It can transmit the varicella-zoster virus, causing chickenpox in susceptible individuals.

What are the Long-term Effects of Shingles?

Long-term effects of shingles may include postherpetic neuralgia (chronic pain), scarring, changes in vision or hearing if the eyes or ears are affected, and in rare cases, neurological complications.

Can Shingles Affect Internal Organs?

Shingles can affect internal organs if the virus spreads to them. This may lead to complications such as pneumonia, encephalitis, or inflammation of other internal organs.

What is the difference between shingles and chickenpox?

Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster, but present differently. Chickenpox is a widespread rash, while shingles is a localised, painful rash along a nerve pathway.

What is the Duration Required for Shingles to Heal?

Shingles typically last 2 to 4 weeks. However, complications like postherpetic neuralgia can prolong symptoms. Early treatment can help shorten the duration and reduce the severity of the illness.

Can Stress Trigger Shingles Outbreaks?

Yes, stress can trigger shingles outbreaks by weakening the immune system, allowing the varicella-zoster virus to reactivate. Managing stress through relaxation techniques and healthy lifestyle habits may help prevent recurrences.

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