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Many people describe shingles as being painful, horrible, and the worst illness they have ever had but some people may not know what they are talking about. Should you be concerned about shingles? The answer to that question is going to depend on a few different factors. Let’s review what shingles is and who is at risk for it.

What is Shingles and How is it Spread?

Shingles is sometimes referred to as herpes zoster and is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. If you experience chickenpox as a child, the virus can continue to live in your nerve cells. For some people, the virus stays dormant and never causes a problem but for others, it may reactivate and cause shingles. It is estimated that approximately 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles during their lifetime1. Shingles cannot be spread through contact with someone else, but chickenpox can. You can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.

What Does Shingles Look Like and What Symptoms Does It Cause?

Shingles appears as a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body or face. The rash may consist of blisters that are red, fluid-filled, painful, tingly, itchy, and cause a burning sensation. When shingles occurs on the face it can affect the eye and cause vision loss. If you notice a shingles rash on your face, seek medical attention immediately to help prevent permanent damage to your eyes. People who have weakened immune systems may develop the shingles rash more widespread on the body. Other symptoms of shingles that may also occur with the rash include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.

Who is Most at Risk of Shingles?

People who are over the age of 50 years are most commonly affected by shingles. Risk increases with age. People who have medical conditions such as leukemia, lymphoma, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are on steroid medications, or are taking anti-rejection medications for an organ transplant are at risk of getting shingles.

What are the Complications of Shingles?

The most common complication of shingles is long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). The nerve pain occurs where the shingles rash was and can last for months or even years after the rash heals. PHN can be so painful and debilitating that it could interfere with your everyday activities. Other complications of shingles include blindness, pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation, and death.

How is Shingles Treated?

Shingles can be treated using antiviral medication which will help shorten the duration and severity of the illness. Antiviral medications are most effective if taken at the first sign of a shingles rash. Pain medication and / or at-home remedies may be recommended to aid with pain and itching relief. If you suspect you may have a shingles rash, seek medical treatment right away.

How can Shingles be Prevented?

Getting vaccinated is the only method to protect against developing shingles and its complications. Talk with your healthcare provider to see if the shingles vaccine is recommended for you.