If you grew up in the late 1980s, you might remember going to a chicken pox party. This type of shindig was encouraged by doctors to expose healthy children to the varicella-zoster virus. Doctors don't recommend holding chickenpox parties anymore because contracting the illness means the child will be susceptible to shingles for the rest of their lives. Shingles are brought on by the same virus responsible for chickenpox, varicella-zoster. Inflamed nerves cause painful blisters to appear on one side of the body resulting in considerable discomfort. Living with shingles can be an inconvenience and causes physical complications in elderly individuals. Let's discuss ten essential facts you should know about shingles.

Postherpetic Neuralgia

The cause of postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is due to the varicella-zoster virus wounding the nerves during a shingles outbreak. The function of the nerve is damaged and doesn't respond appropriately to natural stimuli. Postherpetic neuralgia feels like burning or tingling on the surface of the skin causing pain. This symptom appears after the immediate symptoms of shingles conclude. PHN can last from a couple of weeks until years after the original outbreak. Older people experience increasing painful postherpetic neuralgia symptoms.


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Symptoms of Shingles

Typically, shingles affect one nerve on a single side of the body. Occasionally, grouped nerves might become infected. The illness attacks the nerves in the skin and can be found anywhere on your body, but most outbreaks occur on the abdomen, chest, and face. A person experiencing a shingles outbreak will feel a specific band of pain where the surrounding tissue might swell, be sore, or tender. The blisters of the shingles rash appear two to three days after you begin to feel the discomfort. Many people exhibit flu-like symptoms. The blisters will dry out and form scabs; they can leave scars. It's best to keep the sores clean and wash your hands thoroughly after medicating the blisters.


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The Risk of Contagion

If you've had chickenpox, then you can't catch anything from a person with shingles. The virus is already present in your system. It can't do you harm if you come into contact with shingles blisters. However, if you haven't had chickenpox, you can contract the illness from a person with watery blisters. After the vesicles (blisters) have dried up and scabbed over, there's no risk of contagion. People with compromised immune systems and pregnant women should take extra care if they haven't had chickenpox when around an active shingles infection. Dressing the blisters can reduce the risk of spreading shingles.


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Chickenpox Versus Shingles

Chickenpox is contagious, and if you didn't have the illness as a child, then you can get chickenpox from exposing yourself to someone with an active shingles outbreak. Shingles only occur after the varicella-zoster virus is already in your system. You can't get shingles from shingles. However, if you do have the virus in your system, you can develop the condition.


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How Common are Shingles?

Shingles are a common condition which affects about one in four people. It's the same virus responsible for chickenpox and is referred to as herpes zoster. However, shingles are different from genital herpes which are caused by the virus herpes simplex. People with weak immune systems and people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop the condition. It's unusual to contract shingles more than once in your lifetime, but not altogether unheard of happening.


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Treating Shingles

There are different types of medications your doctor may describe to help manage the discomfort caused by shingles. The primary objectives of your physician will be to control your pain and prevent any complications. Wearing cotton clothes that hang loosely can help ease the irritation of the blisters. An ice pack wrapped in plastic may relieve discomfort. Wet dressings, doctor approved creams, and taking cold baths may help mitigate the pain.


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Contact Your General Practitioner

Shingles are an excruciating condition. It can cause severe complications for older adults and individuals with autoimmune diseases. Regardless, of your health or age, if you're showing signs of a shingles outbreak, it's important to consult your doctor. If the nerve around the eye is inflamed, the damage can lead to vision loss and other consequences. Do not delay seeking professional medical advice if you notice symptoms associated with an active varicella-zoster virus.


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Elevated Risk Factors

There are a few medical situations that increase the likelihood of developing shingles. Older adults are at risk because the aging process weakens the nerve and immune systems. People with specific illnesses like HIV/AIDS are more at risk too. Individuals undergoing cancer treatments like chemotherapy may be prone to developing the disease, as are people who have received a transplanted organ and are taking medications to help their body accept the new organ.


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Possible Complications

There are several complications associated with shingles, including postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) which is pain manifested by feeling a burning sensation in the infected area. If the shingles blisters occur around the eye and remain untreated, it can lead to vision loss. An untreated shingles infection occasionally result in neurological issues like encephalitis or facial paralysis. Shingles can cause bacterial infections in the skin, hearing loss, or balance problems if left unattended to by a doctor.


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There's no way to prevent shingles if you've already had chickenpox. Living a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, plenty of fun physical activities, and managing stress are your best bets at avoiding it. There's a vaccine for people over the age of 50 which can reduce your chances of contracting chickenpox. It isn't a home run prevention but does prevent nine out of ten people from developing the condition. Talk to your doctor if you think the vaccine is right for you.


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