Shingles 

Introduction 

Shingles

Shingles is a viral infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it. A GP describes causes, symptoms and treatment options for shingles.

Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it. It is caused by the herpes varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox.

See the Health A-Z topic on Chickenpox for more information about this condition.

Most people have chickenpox in childhood, but after the illness has gone, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in the nervous system. The immune system (the body’s natural defence system) keeps the virus in check, but later in life it can be reactivated and cause shingles.

Shingles usually affects a specific area on either the left or right side of the body. The main symptoms are:

  • pain
  • a rash, which develops into itchy blisters and then scabs over

See Shingles - symptoms for more information.

How common is shingles?

It is estimated that about 3 people in every 1,000 have shingles in the UK every year.

Shingles can occur at any age, but is most common in people who are over 50 years of age. Among people who are over 80 years of age, about 11 people in every 1,000 have shingles each year. Shingles is much less common in children. 

It is unknown exactly why the shingles virus is reactivated at a later stage in life, but it may be due to having lowered immunity (protection). This may be the result of:

  • being older
  • being stressed
  • a condition that affects your immune system, such as HIV and AIDS

Outlook

In most cases, the painful rash of shingles lasts 7 to 10 days and takes 2 to 4 weeks to fully heal. A number of different medicines can be used to treat the pain.

Complications can occur after you have had shingles, such as postherpetic neuralgia (see Shingles - complications). This is where severe nerve pain lasts for more than three months after the rash has gone.

It is estimated that postherpetic neuralgia affects at least 1 in 10 people with shingles. It is more common in older people, and affects around one-third of people who are over 80 and who have shingles.  

See the Health A-Z topic on Neuralgia for more information about this condition.

Last reviewed: 22/06/2010

Next review due: 22/06/2012

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robyn21 said on 27 February 2011

i have had shingles 4 times in the past year. it comes out in the exact same place everytime. (right buttock)
i notice it after stressful periods and being run down and ill. i find it very itchy and it burns. i am only 21 and cannot understand why it keeps happening. can anyone help?

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DMN said on 12 May 2010

Oh one more thing I forgot to mention... I have an under-active thyroid (take thyroxine daily) and have vitaligo - both of which are auto-immune disorders. I don't know whether there's a link at all? But I imagine I'm more susceptible.

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DMN said on 12 May 2010

This is now my third attack of shingles in 14 months (6th time in total) and I'm only 32! I truly believe that once you've had it (much like if you suffer from cold-sores around your mouth when you're run down) that you're more susceptible to getting it again. I find it annoying when you read info on the web about it, saying how rare it is to have it more than once. But I don't think that's the case at all. I think it'll just keep rearing it's ugly blistered head each time you feel a little under the weather or have an emotional encounter!

I must admit I'm my own worst enemy at times and worry and wittle over the silliest of things. I can get quite anxious and have a very small appetite (all self perpetuating I know!) So I guess it's not surprising I suffer from Shingles.

So, like the lady in the video clip says, I think the only thing you can do is to keep your immune system in check and be happy!

I'm an exhausted mummy and make little time for myself. After this last bout I'm definately going to make sure that I eat better, make more time for myself, not get so stressed and perhaps take a vitamin supplement with Ginseng in it to boost my energy levels. I guess I'll just have to live with the little blisters! At least when I do get them, they're not so much painful but just incredibly itchy and more of a hindrance really. My other worry is that I'll pass the virus onto my son (19 months) who'll then get chicken pox and I'd hate to think I was responsible for him being poorly. But trying to look on the positive side, I guess it's better he gets it now as it'll be much milder than if he got it as an adult.

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Angelvoice said on 04 May 2010

My 5 year old son has shingles it would appear. At first I thought it was insect bites as the rash appeared like a small group of red raised bumps on his chest almost like slightly red goose bumps. As he had been playing on the school field that day I assumed an insect had got inside his shirt and bitten him.

I kept an eye on the rash over the following days. It did not spread but he was in tears at some points as it was itching and hurting so much. It then turned to flat scabs within about 5 days.

6 days after the first rash appeared he got a 2nd rash very close to the 1st appearing next to it on his chest. It was at this point I noticed 2 much smaller areas of rash on his back on the same side but slightly higher. It was at this point I called the doctors for an appointment.

2 days later we went to the GP's. She was unsure of the diagnosis and called another doctor in to look for a 2nd opinion. They both then came to the conclusion that it was shingles although they had some doubts because of his young age and the fact that the spots on his back were slightly higher on his body than the ones on his chest as they are normally in a band around the body as the same nerve is effected.

I had been sending him to school all this time as I had no idea that it was shingles.

He has not had any other symptoms apart from the ithcy painful rash which he still has after 12 days. I am now convinced that it definitely is Shingles as my 2 year old is very out of sorts today and appears to be developing a chicken pox rash.

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JaneHemm said on 15 March 2010

I was diagnosed with Ramsay Huny Syndrome which is Shingles of the ear/mouth/face May 2009, this is quite a nasty very painful illness. It affects your hearing and causes Bells Palsy, I am still recovering from this but making good progress. I have about 90% of my movement back in the side of face that was affected. You need early diagnosis for a quicker recovery and need to get the correct medication as soon as possible within 72 hours. I was very fortunate and was diagnosed early. There is a Ramsay Hunt Web Site with a very helpful forum which gives lots and lots of good advice and names a lot of the medication that is recommended. Also it advises that you see and ear nose and throat and eye specialist to monitor your hearing and your eye if this is affected. The specialists that I saw were fantastic and very sympathitic as was my GP as this kind of shingles can be very distressing and extremely painful. It also causes severe fatigue I was off work for 4 months and it is just a matter of rest, rest and more rest, and I have my fingers crossed that it does not re-appear!!!!!!

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dawn0478 said on 02 March 2010

I would love to know how many times overall the lady in the video has suffered from shingles. I am currently suffering from my 12th attack in less than 3 years! This is not something I want to learn to live with! My GP is not sure why I suffer so frequently and also she is not sure who to refer me onto. In the past I have taken acilorvir for long periods of time and still they keep coming back, even while I am taking the medication! Very fustrated and at the end of my tether, people look at me like I am some sort of freak when they discover how many times I have had it or even worse they assume I am lying which is even more fustrating.

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dawn0478 said on 02 March 2010

I would love to know how many times overall the lady in the video has suffered from shingles. I am currently suffering from my 12th attack in less than 3 years! This is not something I want to learn to live with! My GP is not sure why I suffer so frequently and also she is not sure who to refer me onto. In the past I have taken acilorvir for long periods of time and still they keep coming back, even while I am taking the medication! Very fustrated and at the end of my tether, people look at me like I am some sort of freak when they discover how many times I have had it or even worse they assume I am lying which is even more fustrating.

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bw59 said on 31 January 2010

I have had 4 outbreaks of shingles since July 09. The last 3 since beginning of Dec. Each outbreak is mild and in the same area (left buttock). The pain is mild and is causing discomfort, but is not debilitating. Am wondering why I am having recurrences. My immune system perhaps?

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littleva said on 12 January 2010

I have had Shingles three times to date. I have it on my face at the moment, but had it on my head many years ago. That was so painful, thought I had a brain tunour. Went to A&E & they said I had a migraine headache. When I went to my GP following morning, he diagnosed Shingles. It does occur when I have been ill & more so when I have had a stressful period. I guess keeping your immune system in check must be the answer.

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ega95jch said on 10 January 2010

My understanding is that shingles only occurs once for the vast majority of people. Joanne's video gives the misleading impression that shingles will necessarily reoccur and will need 'managing' and 'living with'.

Am I mistaken?

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lana92 said on 04 January 2010

is it normal to get shingles when you are about 14?

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elephants57 said on 17 December 2009

i have had shingles for two weeks now .its very sore and i cant sleep still have the rash i just wish it would go away so i can get back to the gym.what can i do to build my immunie system back up again

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Redden said on 26 May 2009

Last year i suffered from shingles and this was when I was 14. My GP told me that when you are younger, it is not as painful and you may recover from it quicker.
The pain itself wasn't that bad unless I touched it or if it rubbed against a surface. I wasn't physically sick, but I'm an active person and for the week I had shingles, I struggled to move and just felt weak. It's not a pleasant thing to get at any age.

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