Shingles is a condition caused by the herpes varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox.
After you recover from chickenpox the virus remains in an inactive state in your nervous system. Normally your body keeps the virus under control. But in later life a drop in your immunity caused by illness, stress or infection can allow the virus to reappear.
Shingles usually affects one side of your body only and occurs in one nerve. However all the skin surfaces that the nerve supplies may exhibit symptoms including pain and a rash. Occasionally nearby nerves are also affected. Often the skin and soft tissues around the rash are tender and sore. Like chickenpox, the rash develops blisters that scab over and dry up. Symptoms can continue for 2-5 weeks and there may be slight scarring.
If you have not had chickenpox you cannot get shingles. However anyone who has not had chickenpox can get it if they come in direct contact with shingles blisters. If you have shingles rash you should not:
- Go swimming
- Engage in contact sports
- Share towels or bedding
There is no cure for shingles. In many cases over the counter pain relief can ease the symptoms. Keeping your rash clean and dry will aid healing. In some cases your consultant may recommend antiviral medication.
Most people recover from shingles however in some cases there may be complications such as:
- Continued nerve pain after symptoms have gone (postherpetic neuralgia)
- Infection in the rash
More severe complications are rare. You should discuss any concerns you have with your consultant.