Shingles, also known as herpes zoster,is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it. It's caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox.
It's estimated around one in every four people will have at least one episode of shingles during their life.
This topic covers:
When to seek medical advice
Causes of shingles
Is shingles contagious?
Complications of shingles
The shingles vaccine
The main symptom of shinglesis pain, followed by a rash that develops into itchy blisters ,similar in appearance to chickenpox .
New blisters may appear for up to a week, but a few days after appearing they become yellowish in colour, flatten and dry out.
Scabs then form where the blisters were, which may leave some slight scarring and loss of skin pigment.
The pain may bea constant, dull or burning sensation, and its intensity can vary from mild to severe.
You may have sharp stabbing pains from time to time, and the affected area of skin will usually be tender.
In some cases shingles may cause some early symptoms that develop a few days before the painful rash first appears.
These early symptoms can include:
An episode of shingles typically lasts around two to four weeks. It usuallyaffects a specific area on justone side of the body.
Itdoesn't cross over the midline of the body, an imaginary line running from between your eyes down past the belly button.
Any part of your body can be affected, including your face and eyes, butthe chest and tummy (abdomen) are the most common areas.
Shingles isn't usually serious, but see your GP as soon as possible if you recognise the symptoms.They'll usually be able to diagnose shingles based on your symptoms and the appearance of the rash.
Early treatment may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and the risk of developing complications.
It's uncommon for someone with shingles to be referred to hospital, but your GP may consider seeking specialist advice if:
Most people have chickenpox in childhood, but after the illness has gone the varicella-zoster virus remains inactive (dormant) in the nervous system.
The immune system keeps the virus in check, but it can be reactivatedlater in life and cause shingles.
It's possible to have shingles more than once, but it's very rare to get it more than twice.
It's not known exactly why the shingles virus is reactivated at a later stage in life, but most cases are thought to be caused byhaving loweredprotection against infections and diseases (immunity).
This may be the result of:
However, young people who are otherwise healthy can also sometimes develop shingles.
It's not possible to catch shingles from someone with the condition or from someone with chickenpox.
However, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven't hadchickenpox before.
The blisters of shingles contain live virus. If a person who has never had chickenpox makesdirect contact with an open blister or something with the fluid on it,they can contract the virus and develop chickenpox.
If you have shingles, you're contagious until the last blister has dried and scabbed over.
To help prevent the virus being passed on,avoid sharing towels or flannels, swimming or playing contact sports.You should also avoid work or school ifyour rash is oozing fluid (weeping) and can't be covered.
Chickenpox can be particularly dangerous for certain groups of people. If you have shingles, avoid:
Although there'sno cure for shingles, treatment is available to relieve the symptoms until the condition resolves. Most cases of shingles last around two to four weeks.
Treatment for shingles can include:
This is where severe nerve pain lasts for several months or more after the rash has gone.
Complications like this are usuallyin elderly people who have had the condition and those with a weakened immune system.
If you still develop shingles after having this vaccine, it may be milder and last for a shorter time than usual.
This vaccine is now routinely offered on the NHS as a single injection to peopleaged70 and 78.Check with your GP if you're eligible to receive it.
Who can have the shingles vaccine
Some cases of shingles can affect one of the eyes and are known as ophthalmic shingles.
This occurs when the virus is reactivated in part of the trigeminal nerve,a nerve that controls sensation and movement in your face.
Symptoms can include:
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
Read about treatments for shingles, which can help ease your symptoms until the condition improves.
Read about complications of shingles, which are more likely if you have a weakened immune system or are elderly.