Shingles

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso.

While it isn’t a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications.

Shingles generally lasts between two and six weeks. Most people get shingles only once, but it is possible to get it two or more times.

 
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Symptoms

  • Pain, burning, numbness, or tingling
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fatigue
 
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Risk factors

Anyone who has ever had chickenpox can develop shingles. Most adults in the United States had chickenpox when they were children, before the advent of the routine childhood vaccination that now protects against chickenpox.

Factors that may increase your risk of developing shingles include:

  • Being older than 50. Shingles are most common in people older than 50. The risk increases with age.
  • Having certain diseases. Diseases that weaken your immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, can increase your risk of shingles.
  • Undergoing cancer treatments. Radiation or chemotherapy can lower your resistance to diseases and may trigger shingles.
  • Taking certain medications.Drugs designed to prevent rejection of transplanted organs can increase your risk of shingles — as can prolonged use of steroids, such as prednisone.
 
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Complications

Complications from shingles can include:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia. For some people, shingles’ pain continues long after the blisters have cleared. This condition is known as postherpetic neuralgia, and it occurs when damaged nerve fibers send confused and exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain.
  • Vision loss. Shingles in or around an eye (ophthalmic shingles) can cause painful eye infections that may result in vision loss.
  • Neurological problems. Depending on which nerves are affected, shingles can cause an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), facial paralysis, or hearing or balance problems.
  • Skin infections. If shingles blisters aren’t properly treated, bacterial skin infections may develop.
 
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Treatment

There’s no cure for shingles, but prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs can speed healing and reduce your risk of complications.

 
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