Nearly 1 out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as herpes zoster. There are an estimated 1 million cases of shingles each year in this country. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox can get the disease, even children. As you age, however, your risk of getting shingles increases.

What are shingles?

The chickenpox virus, varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is the very same one that causes shingles. After a bout with the chickenpox, the virus continues to live in a few of your nerve cells; you have no idea it is still in your body. Most adults live with VZV most of their lives and never get shingles. However, for the 1 in 3 adults who do get the disease, instead of chickenpox reappearing, shingles takes its place.

One thing should be made clear; shingles do not mean there is some other underlying disease you should fret about night and day.

How do you get shingles?

Everyone who has had the chickenpox can get shingles, young and old, but the risk of getting it increases as you age. The medical community is still unable to predict if, when, someone will get the disease. The only overall disease predictors, for now, are advanced age and a weakened immune system due to something as minimal as the common cold.

Shingles are not contagious; you cannot contract it from someone else. You can, however, contract the chickenpox from a person who has shingles. If you’ve never had the chickenpox, you might not want to expose yourself to someone who has shingles.

What are the signs and symptoms of shingles?

Shingles are painful! It appears in the form of a rash that tends to develop on one side of the face or body.   The rash resembles small fluid-filled blisters that will scab over in about a week to ten days. The rash will then dry up, crust over, and typically go away within two to four weeks.

Before most sufferers see the blisters, folks complain of pain and itching at the site where the rash is set to develop from one to five days earlier. The most common bodily site for shingles to develop is on one side of your waistline.

Other shingles symptoms include fever, headache, chills, upset stomach, and general malaise.

Even though most people will only experience one bout with shingles, it is possible to develop it again. 

Complications involving shingles

After shingles have ended, many people are left with an ongoing pain in the area where the rash appeared called post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN.   Those who are older have a greater chance of developing PHN. The pain can lead to depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and weight loss. PHN sufferers should discuss any issues they are having with their physicians as there are medications that may help.

PHN will improve with time.

Another issue with shingles can involve the infection of blisters and scarring. It is also essential to keep the rash clean and to refrain from scratching it.

If there are blisters near your eyes, alert your physician immediately as this can cause damage to your sight.

Think you have shingles?

If you think you might have shingles, see your doctor immediately and try to do so no later than three days after the rash appears. Even though there is no cure for shingles, early treatment with medication is your best bet towards getting the rash to dry up sooner and pain management.

Should you get the shingles vaccine?

If you are age 60 and over you should consider getting vaccinated. It is a safe, one-time injection that can prevent you from getting shingles. You can also get protected even if you’ve already had shingles, or don’t remember if you’ve had the chickenpox. Do discuss getting vaccinated against shingles with your doctor. Most private health insurers will cover the cost of the vaccine as well as all Medicare Part D plans.

Need more information about shingles? Contact the National Shingles Foundation at www.vzvfoundation.org