All about shingles

Typical symptoms of shingles
on Thu 10 Mar


Most common in people over the age of 50, shingles is caused by varicella-zoster - the virus which causes chickenpox. This virus typically lies dormant in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain and can reactivate as shingles when your immune system is weakened.


There are several potential causes of this:


  • Ageing
  • Being under serious stress
  • Having had a serious injury
  • Cancer treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy
  • Taking medications which prevent the rejection of transplanted organs
  • Prolonged use of steroids such as Prednisone


Typical symptoms of shingles

Pain is usually the first sign of shingles, it can be quite intense pain and, depending on its location, is sometimes confused with heart, lung or kidney problems. Other typical symptoms are


  • Burning, numbness, itching or tingling
  • Being touch sensitive
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • An upset stomach
  • A red rash which appears a few days after pain (although some people do not get this) which wraps around the left or right side of your torso. Less commonly this can occur around the eye, face or neck
  • Blisters which are filled with fluid and which break open and crust over


Less typical symptoms are also occasionally experienced. These include


  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Being sensitive to light
  • Feeling tired


Most people will only get shingles once, but it can come back if your immune system is weakened


Consulting your GP

You should always see your Doctor if you think you have shingles.  But you should do this with some urgency if:


  • The pain and rash occurs near the eye as it can cause permanent eye damage if left untreated.
  • You are 60 or older as complications are more commonplace.
  • The rash is widespread and painful
  • You have a weakened immune system


Is shingles contagious?

Like chickenpox, you are contagious until your blisters scab. So during this time you should avoid contact with anyone who has a low immune system; people who have not had chickenpox; pregnant women and new born infants


Treatment for shingles

Antiviral drugs can help you heal more quickly and are ideally taken within 3 days of the rash starting


Soothing treatments such as medicated lotions or cool compresses can help as will over the counter anti inflammatories such as Ibuprofen and prescription painkillers such as Codeine


Why have the shingles vaccine?

Although shingles is not life threatening it can be extremely painful and a preventative vaccines can:


  • Help reduce the risk of developing shingles
  • Shorten the duration of a shingles infection
  • Lessen complications such as postherpetic neuralgia whereby shingles pain lasts for a longer period than your blisters (this affects 20% of those with shingles); vision loss from ophthalmic shingles; neurological problems including encephalitis, paralysis of the face or hearing/balance problems


This Practice offers Shingrix which is 90% effective. Given over two doses this provides protection for 5 years or more.


I hope this has been helpful.


We make every effort to ensure that all health advice on this website is accurate and up to date. However it is for information purposes and should not replace a visit to your doctor or health care professional. 


As the advice is general in nature rather than specific to individuals we cannot accept any liability for actions arising from its use nor can we be held responsible for the content of any pages referenced by an external link.




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