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Shingles (herpes zoster) is a skin condition. It is triggered by the chicken pox virus, which is thought to lie dormant in the spinal cord until later in life. Most often, shingles occurs in people over 50 years old.

Skin Rashes

Signs & Symptoms

•  Pain, itching, or a tingling feeling before a rash appears.

•  A rash of painful red blisters. These later crust over. Most often, the rash appears in a band on one side of the body or in a cluster on one side of the face.

•  Fever and general weakness can occur.

•  The crusts fall off, usually within 3 weeks.

•  Pain can persist in the area of the rash. This usually goes away within 1 to 6 months. Chronic pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) can last longer, even for years. The older you are, the greater the chance that this is the case. The recovery time may also take longer.

•  Blindness can occur if the eye is affected.

•  Most cases of shingles are mild.


The virus that causes chicken pox – varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes shingles. To get shingles, you must have had chicken pox. You are more likely to get shingles after an illness or taking medicine that lowers the immune system. Stress or trauma can also increase the risk for shingles.


If you think you might have shingles, see your doctor right away! He or she can prescribe:


•  An oral antiviral medicine. This can make symptoms less severe and help you get better sooner. To help, this medicine needs to be started within 24 to 72 hours after the rash first appears.

•  Medicine for pain. This includes over-the-counter pain relievers and capsaicin topical cream. Prescribed medicine may be needed for pain. A skin patch called Lidoderm may be helpful for PHN.

•  Other medicines to treat symptoms.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)


National Shingles Foundation


Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

•  A Zoster vaccine may help prevent getting shingles. It can also reduce the pain due to shingles. The vaccine is advised for persons age 60 and older.

•  Unless your doctor has prescribed pain medicine, take an over-the-counter one as directed.

•  Don’t wear clothing that irritates the skin area where sores are present.

•  Keep sores open to the air. Until the blisters are completely crusted over, do not go near children or adults who have not yet had chicken pox. Do not go near persons who have a condition which weakens their immune system. Examples are cancer, HIV/AIDS, and chronic illnesses. They could get chicken pox from exposure to shingles.

•  Wash blisters. Don’t scrub them.

•  To relieve itching, apply calamine lotion to the affected area. You can also use a paste made of 3 teaspoons of baking soda mixed with 1 teaspoon of water.

•  Avoid drafty areas.

•  Put a cool compress, such as a cold cloth dipped in ice water, on the blisters. Do this for 20 minutes at a time.

•  Drink lots of liquids.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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