Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the herpes zoster virus; this is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in the nerve cells. Years later, the virus can become active again and travel to the skin. Most people have shingles only once, but it is possible to have it more than once.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles, but your risk is greater if you:
The first sign of shingles is usually pain, burning, tingling, or itching on one part of your body or face; you may also feel as if you have the flu, with fever and chills. A red rash with small blisters appears; blisters may occur anywhere most commonly on the back chest or abdomen. The blisters usually appear on one side of the body, spreading along the nerve pathway where the virus was inactive. The rash can also form around an eye, along one side of the face or neck, or in the mouth. In a few people, usually with weakened immune systems, shingles appear on more than one part of the body at once. After a few days, the blisters become dry and form a crust; the crust falls off in days to weeks. This blisters generally do not leave scars.
For most people, shingles heals on its own in a few weeks. But treatment is recommended to help relieve pain, speed healing, and reduce the risk of complications. Antiviral medications are prescribed within the first 72 hours of the appearance of the rash. To lessen symptoms, apply ice packs, cool compresses, or soak in a cool bath, use calamine lotion to calm itchy skin, and always ask your physician about over-the-counter pain relievers. If your pain is severe, your physician may prescribe stronger pain medications.
You can only get shingles if you've had the chickenpox in the past. Those who have never had chickenpox can get the virus from you. Until your blisters form scabs, avoid contact with others.