American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Shingles: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

If you had chickenpox as a child, you could be at risk to develop shingles - a very painful, blistering skin rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. 

“Shingles is a risk for anyone who’s ever had chickenpox, particularly older adults and people who have a weakened immune system,” explains Rob Danoff, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Philadelphia. “After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus can lie dormant for years, then reactivate and produce shingles." 

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Common Symptoms

Even if you've never had chickenpox, you can still develop chickenpox by coming in contact with the rash or blisters on a person with shingles, Dr. Danoff warns.

Shingles symptoms might be difficult to detect in the early stages, but there are some warning signs, including:

  • Pain, burning, numbness or tingling.

  • A red rash or stripe of blisters that wraps around the left or right side of your torso, occurs around one eye, or develops on one side of the neck or face.

  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over within two to three weeks.

“Shingles symptoms vary in severity, and some people can experience shingles pain without ever developing a rash,” explains Dr. Danoff.

It might be time to see the doctor if:

  • You notice a persistent pain or a widespread itchy rash on your body, 

  • You are over age 60. "It is especially important for older adults to get medical care at the first signs of shingles, as sometimes pain in the affected area can linger for months or years following an outbreak if the nerves have been damaged," explains Dr. Danoff.

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well.

Treatment Options

“While there is no cure for shingles, prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs and pain medicine can speed healing and reduce the risk of complications,” explains Dr. Danoff. 

Additional courses of treatment include:

  • Keeping sores and blisters clean.

  • Taking prescription medication as directed.

Additionally, Dr. Danoff recommends adults over age 50 speak with their physician about Zostavax, an immunization designed to reduce the risk of getting shingles.

 

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