Overview of shingles

Chickenpox can cause problems to your health long after the calamine lotion is put away. The virus that causes chicken pox, known as the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), can eventually result in a painful skin rash called shingles, or herpes zoster. 

After the initial chickenpox reaction goes away, the virus remains inactive in our cells, and years later (often when our immune system has weakened) activates again and takes the form of shingles. Even those who have small doses of the virus from receiving the chickenpox vaccine are at risk for shingles.

Age groups at-risk

Because shingles is associated with age and the strength of our immune system, as we get older we are more likely to develop shingles. However, shingles can affect any age group, including children and young adults. Children most at risk for herpes zoster are those who had chickenpox during the first year of life or whose mothers had chickenpox during pregnancy.


Shingles often come with painful burning or tingling sensations in one side or part of your body, frequently accompanied by a rash. This rash begins as small red spots that eventually turn into blisters. The rash usually goes away in a few weeks without spreading to other parts of the body.

In some cases, shingles sufferers may experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, and nausea. Shingles can be painful and uncomfortable, with the pain sometimes outlasting the physical side effects in a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Your health care provider will likely know right away that a condition is shingles based on the unique rash and blisters. You may also be asked to take a blood or skin sample, and to provide your medical history.

The most common treatments of shingles include antiviral drugs and pain medication. The sooner a shingles treatment plan is started, the more effective it will be. Other treatments include anti-itching ointments and cool compresses (e.g. ice pack, washcloth, etc.) applied to the rash area.

There is no cure for shingles, and once it is in your system it can occur again. A shingles vaccine is available, and encouraged for those 60 and older. Even if you have already had shingles, you can get the vaccine to prevent future outbreaks.

If you are concerned about shingles, talk to your experienced Intermountain provider about whether the shingles vaccine may be right for you.

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.