Shingles: What You Should Know
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After having chickenpox, the virus can lie dormant in the body for years. Then it can reappear as a painful, blistering rash, affecting a small area anywhere on the body, but only on one side. Usually it brings intense pain, burning, numbness or tingling.
Shingles can damage nerves, which can result in continuing pain after the rash clears, hearing or balance problems, facial paralysis or encephalitis. It can lead to skin infections and, near an eye, it can cause eye damage or vision loss. With open shingles blisters, it’s possible to spread the virus to anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or its vaccine, causing chickenpox, but not shingles.
Your shingles risk increases after age 50 and is higher if your immune system is weakened by illness or medications. Vaccines can reduce your risk and/or the severity and complications of shingles, but don’t guarantee you won’t get the infection. The chickenpox vaccine is recommended for those who haven’t had chickenpox. The live single-dose Zostavax vaccine offers shingles protection for about five years. The newer, nonliving and therefore safer, dual-dose Shingrix vaccine offers shingles protection for more than five years and is the preferred option. Talk to your doctor about your risks and options. There’s no cure for shingles, but antiviral medicines can speed healing and reduce complications.