Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
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Shingles is a painful skin condition in adults caused by the chicken pox virus, also known as the varicella-zoster virus.
If you had chicken pox as a child,
you still have the varicella-zoster virus inside some of your nerves, but not in active form.
For unknown reasons, the varicella-zoster virus may become active again in older people or those with weakened immune systems.
The reactivated virus travels along your nerves to your skin, causing symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and pain.
A red, blistery rash quickly follows these symptoms.
Shingles normally happens in a single patch on one side of your body.
It may also happen on one of your shoulders, on the side of your neck, or head.
Within a three to five days, bumps in the rash fill with fluid and become blisters that look like chicken pox.
Next, the blisters fill with pus, which forces them to break open and begin to scab over.
When the scabs fall off and the blisters heal, the pain usually goes away.
These symptoms usually last one to two months.
You may experience a complication of shingles, called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN,
which is pain even after your rash has cleared up.
Other complications of shingles include: vision loss, if shingles occurs around your eye,
pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation, neurologic problems, and skin infections.
Both the chicken pox vaccine and the shingles vaccine can dramatically reduce your risk for getting shingles and postherpetic neuralgia.
Although there is no cure for shingles, antiviral drugs such as acyclovir can speed healing,
and reduce the severity of the rash when taken within three days after the rash appears.
To reduce pain, your doctor may recommend: over-the-counter pain medication, calamine lotion, cool compresses, and an oatmeal bath.
For severe postherpetic neuralgia, your doctor may prescribe medications such as gabapentin.