What is Shingles Disease? -History-Symptoms-Treatments

The shingles disease is one that causes an intense, painful rash that can be found on various parts of the body. Those that experience this disease often will need to seek out medical attention because the rash can be very painful and often causes a number of other health risks over time. The disease is also known as herpes zoster.  In either case, the condition is one that needs medical attention to be minimized to a livable condition. Because of the complexity of the shingles disease, it is often advisable that if you believe that you do have the disease to seek out medical attention.

What is Shingles Disease? -History-Symptoms-Treatments

What is Shingles Disease? -History-Symptoms-Treatments

Shingles Definition

Shingles is also known as Herpes Zoster and is a disease caused by the Chickenpox virus. If you are one of the nine out of ten adults in the United States that have had Chickenpox you could get Shingles.

However, Shingles is a very unpredictable disease. There is no guarantee, even if all the ‘right’ things are in place, that you will – or will not, get Shingles. When you have had Chickenpox the virus stays in your body, lodging on a nerve root. It takes the right combination of circumstances for that leftover marker to turn into Shingles.

Shingles and Family Heredity

You are at higher risk of getting Shingles if any of your family members have had the disease and the closer on the family tree you are to the family member with Shingles, the more at risk you are.

Family Legacy

Scientists are finding that your Family History is a huge factor in determining your risk of getting the Shingles disease. The closer on the family tree the relative is to you, the larger the factor of course. But even if your third cousin once removed has had Shingles, Doctors are saying your chances are double that of someone whose relatives have not had them. If your Mom, Dad or Sibling have had Shingles your risk is even greater.


Herpes Zoster or Shingles has a long history in itself. It was known before the 18th century but the blisters were not being distinguished from the blisters of Smallpox and other similar diseases. It wasn’t until towards the end of the 18th century that Herpes Zoster was recognized as a different disease from Smallpox. Then it took another century to separate it from the other look a-like similarities.

It was the beginning of the 20th century before Shingles was found to be associated with Chickenpox. Unbelievably, Shingles was thought to be a very mild disease without serious complication until the 1940’s. The disease continued to be studied and it was in the 1950’s that Herpes Zoster, or Shingles, was fully recognized to be a major disease form with possible serious complications. At that time the search for therapeutic and preventative medicines began. It was also discovered that the incidences of Shingles advanced with age. Rather than the young being the target group, as with Chickenpox, it is the older section of the population that needs to be protected from Shingles.

What is Shingles?

The shingles disease is characterized as a rash that appears on the body as a band. The band wraps around the body from the back along one side and up, towards the breastbone. The rash is often found on other locations of the body as well, but the distinct band is almost always found. The pain from the shingles disease is very intense, often considered to be one of the worst types of pain. More so, the pain itself may happen prior to the occurrence of the rash, which may leave individuals very discouraged and worried. The rash then appears within a few days at most. The rash often has blisters throughout. This often is an easy to diagnosis condition for doctors once these symptoms appear.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. That is the Varicella zoster virus.  Individuals that have had chicken pox do not get rid of the virus.  Rather, it lies dormant in the body for many years. In many cases, it is never experienced again. In some individuals, the disease does show up again.  In some individuals that were exposed to the virus but did not have any signs or symptoms of it at the time, the virus may have still been contracted and may later express itself as the shingles disease. The disease is not life threatening, though it can lead to complications such as infection if left untreated.

In some cases, though rare, the shingles disease leads to post herpetic neuralgia. In this condition, the skin becomes very sensitive to being touched and stays painful even though the rash itself has cleared up. It can last from a few months or even several years after having the shingles disease.

What Activates Shingles? 

Stress is thought to be a common factor or trigger for Shingles. Yet not all people who have had Chickenpox and get stressed, develop Shingles. There are other mitigating factors. It depends on your immune system, your increasing age – and still, with all the triggers in place, you may or may not get Shingles.

Who is At Risk For Shingles? 

Shingles normally strikes adults sixty years of age and older. As you age, the chances of your getting Shingles grows too. However, that doesn’t mean people younger than sixty have immunity to the disease; they just don’t get Shingles as often as their elders.

Shingles is contagious during the time the blisters have a clear fluid or before the rash has scabbed over and then only through contact with the blisters or rash. This means a child or someone who has never had Chickenpox can get them from someone with a weeping Shingles rash. One of the things a person can do to help deter someone else contacting any form of the disease is to cover the blisters and rash with a light covering so no one can accidently come in contact with the direct sores.

Shingles Symptoms

Some of the beginning symptoms of the disease are close to the flu symptoms. Fever for four or five days, headache, physical fatigue, tummy problems, sudden chills, and then itching may start on any area of the body. Rash or blisters may appear.

Shingles is a very uncomfortable disease with the itching, burning rash and the blisters and pain that accompany the disease. You could be one of the lucky ones and have just one small rash patch or you could end up with rash all over your body. It can last from a few days to several months.

Symptoms To Monitor For

In most cases, individuals do not know that they have the virus that leads to shingles until it is present on them. The first symptom of the shingles disease, most often, is a pain and burning of the skin. The skin becomes sensitive to touch and may also tingle. This is usually a localized condition where later the rash will present itself. The rash is usually following the onset of pain by one to more days. It is comprised of blisters that have a fluid filled top to them. These will break open.  In most cases, they will then crust over and heal. They remain very painful and often are accompanied by intense itching. Additional symptoms of the shingles disease include fevers and chills, the onset of headaches, as well as abdominal pain and discomfort.

The symptoms of the shingles disease almost always occur on just one side of the body. Doctors realize this is a tell tale sign of the disease. The band that is created is actually the path that the nerve follows. This nerve is where the shingles virus has been hidden since it was contracted. In some cases, the shingles rash can be found over one of the eyes or even on one side of the face or neck. In most cases, the rash is similar to that of chicken pox, but with the band of infection rather than a wide spread condition.

Don’t Scratch-Antihistamines

It might be common sense, but really: Don’t Scratch, it will itch and you will be miserable, but don’t scratch. Scratching increases the risk of a secondary bacterial infection under the skin and scarring. You can also spread the blisters to other parts of your body or to your eyes, mouth, etc. Use an oral antihistamine like Benadryl and apply topical creams to soothe. When my kids had Chickenpox, I put oatmeal in a nylon sock, tied the end and put it in a bath for them. It helped. Don’t try the instant oatmeal, it dissolve to easily.


It is normally enough for a doctor to see the rash or blisters and to hear about the pain to determine the problem is Shingles. If there is any doubt, there are several tests available for confirmation. One older type test is called the Tzanck Smear. The procedure is to open a blister, take out some fluid and skin cells, putting them on a slide with some special stain and view under a microscope for certain viral changes.

There are viral cultures or special antibody tests of the blister that are a little more up to date and faster. A skin biopsy of the rash can also be viewed under a microscope and a culture of the biopsied tissue may be done if there are no blisters to examine.

Shingles Treatments

Shingles Medical Treatment

If you believe that you have the shingles disease, it is likely that you are experiencing the pain associated with it as well as the rash that coincides with it. IF this is the case, it is important to seek out medical attention so that you can overcome the painful scenario associated with the prolonged condition.

You may not have an intense case, in which the shingles disease will heal and go away on its own. This usually takes several weeks to happen. Even still, it is beneficial that you seek out treatment as soon as possible when the disease first hits so that you can minimize the pain that is likely to follow. In addition, medications and treatment methods can be helpful in healing the condition faster. More so, you are less likely to experience complications to the disease if you receive proper treatment for the condition.

The treatment for the shingles disease will include several things. First, your doctor is likely to give you antiviral medications. These are effective are reducing the severity of the symptoms that you have. High doses of medications such as famciclovir, valcyclovir and acyclovir are often used. Next, your doctor is likely to give you another medication to help with inflammation. These anti inflammatory medications include coriticosteroids. This medication also helps you.

Medical Treatment

The medical options used to treat Shingles are fairly simple and there aren’t many of them. There isn’t a medication specifically used for Shingles. If the disease is identified within 24-72 hours of the onset of the rash, Doctors can prescribe an antiviral medication.

Antiviral Medication

The antiviral medications used for Shingles are acyclovir, known as Zovirax; valacyclovir, known as Valtrex; or famciclover, known as Famvir. This type of medication is only effective if used during that beginning window of time so it is important to call your doctor immediately and let them know you suspect Shingles.

Pain Control

Pain is a large part of having Shingles. This is one of the major diagnosing factors of the disease. The pain medication that is normally recommended includes acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or tricyclic antidepressants. If the pain escalates and PHN, also known as postherpetic neuralgia sets in, stronger pain medication will be prescribed. If you get PHN, this medication may be oxycodone or morphine.

Some patients may not respond to these usual pain treatments, at that time they will most likely be referred to a pain management specialist.

Topical Treatment

A topical cream for the itching symptom will probably be recommended or prescribed. There are natural options and prescribed steroid type creams.


Like most vaccines, the Shingles vaccination is not a complete preventative, but it reduces your chance of getting Shingles by close to fifty percent. It also helps to lesson symptoms if you do get the disease. Those are the advantages to the shot. There are very limited treatments for Shingles and even pain medications do not take all the pain and discomfort away. So this new vaccine is a step in the right direction.

However, as with most medications, there are some serious reasons for not getting this vaccination. Number one just might be the cost, at $219.00 a shot; the cons need to be seriously evaluated. The prime target age for getting Shingles is sixty. At the time of this article, Medicare insurance does not cover the cost of the shot. Plan B does not cover this vaccination. Some Supplement insurances will cover a portion of the costs. Fed Blue Cross, the Federal government insurance plan, will pay for this vaccination for their members.

If you can get past the cost, here are a few other things you need to consider. All vaccinations have possible side effects. For the Shingles vaccination those include that you make sure you don’t already have any mild or moderate illness before you get the shot. You can’t have a cold or the sniffles; you need to be in good overall health.

If you are healthy, then the makers of the vaccine want you to consider these questions:

  • Have you been taking Prednisone daily, for longer than 2 weeks?
  • Will you be around any child under 12 years of age, not yet immunized for Chickenpox, for up to one month after your vaccination?
  • Are you in personal contact with anyone going through radiation or chemo, or on high doses of Prednisone?
  • Are you taking any other medications that might affect you immune system?

There are more questions they want answered, such as if you’ve ever had a reaction when taking any components that make up this vaccine? Those components are neomycin, Monosodium L-glutamate, otherwise known as MSG, or the simple ingredient of gelatin.

You have to answer the above or similar questions and sign a waiver before receiving the vaccine at most clinics. This vaccine is not for everyone, for instance if you have a weakened immune system you will not be eligible for this vaccine. Having had, or if you are currently fighting a disease such as AIDS, cancer with treatments of radiation or chemotherapy, or any other problem that has caused you to use or be using high dose steroids, will automatically disallow use of the vaccine.

If you decide that the vaccination is for you, there are some things to watch for after receiving the shot. These seem to be the common problems to watch for after receiving any vaccination. Watch for redness, swelling, itching or soreness around the area of the vaccination. You may get a headache. The unusual moderate or severe things to look for are high fever, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat, a bad rash such as hives or swelling of the throat.

Chickenpox Vaccine

If you have children or grandchildren and you know that Shingles runs in the family, make sure your entire family is aware of this history. There is a Chickenpox vaccine that is highly effective. You can’t get Shingles if you haven’t had Chickenpox.


Shingles should not be taken lightly. There are several serious conditions that can develop from the Shingles. Some of the problems could be eye damage, internal organ damage, pneumonia, encephalitis of the brain, and even death in extreme cases.

Anyone who has had Shingles will tell you the pain in itself is no small thing. The pain can be excruciating and last long after the rash and blisters are gone. Shingles cases vary with each individual. The more informed we are the better chance of catching the disease in the first stages and knowing what to do about it.

The best preventive for any illness is a strong immune system and as we get older and less active we have to consciously work to keep that immune system strong. We can work to keep our immune system strong by eating healthy, getting some good old fashioned exercise, fresh air and careful doses of sunshine.

Take it Seriously

All the pain and uncomfortable symptoms of Shingles added to the possible complications mean this disease should be taken very seriously. If you get Shingles once, you can get it again. Repeat cases happen frequently. If you think you have Shingles, make sure you see your doctor and follow medical advice. Remember you are contagious and act accordingly.

Knowledge is Power

The strangest thing about Shingles, in my mind anyway, is the lack of knowledge the general public has about the disease. It’s amazing the number of people that have never heard of it, or have no idea what it is or what it can do.

This is insane when you consider that two out of every ten people will get Shingles at some point in their lives and the number seems to be growing. A depleted immune system and high levels of stress are said to be contributors to the reason people get the disease.

Complications from Shingles can include blindness, brain problems that include Alzheimer like symptoms and even death.

Have you had Chickenpox? Has anyone in your family had Shingles? Ask.

Shingles and Pregnancy

For those of us who have had the chicken-pox, it has understood just how miserable the seemingly innocuous sounding sickness can make you. Children have it hard, but if you never contracted the virus when you were still young and able to bounce back easily, then you are in for a beating once you get older. Combine with that the roller-coaster ride of sickness associated with pregnancy and you have a dangerous combination. Especially when the Vericella virus that makes up both the chicken-pox and shingles, decides to lean more one way than the other.

While rare, contracting shingles disease while pregnant is not unheard of and it is that same rarity that makes it dangerous. Since the cases concerning shingles during pregnancy are so few and far between, it is nearly impossible for doctors to study where things have gone wrong.

This makes it equally impossible to stop the virus from causing damage to the fetus since it is a mystery as to how to keep the virus from transmitting from the mother to the unborn child.

We all want our babies to be happy and healthy, and the months during a pregnancy, especially the ones nearest the delivery date, are the most stressful. That is because for the most part we understand all the threats out there. The complications that are possible are forever at the forefront of our minds, and that is without even once worrying about unknown complications in more than a generalized way. If you have had chickenpox before then you are capable of getting the shingles virus as well. While most people do not have to worry about shingles until well after middle age, there are occasional cases where the virus, which lies doormat, is jumpstarted into action.

How to Avoid Shingles Disease in Pregnancy?

Considering that shingles usually hits when the immune system is weakened, then it is understandable why so many woman fear contracting the virus during their pregnancy. Shingles has been known to cause damage to the fetus, and as a direct result, has been the basis for problems revealed later on in the child’s development. Therefore, the fear of a combination between the sickness and pregnancy is valid enough that measures should be taken just in case. Diet and exercise may sound like the fallback plan of health specialists but the reason why is because they are effective. Eating right and taking care of your body before, during, and after your pregnancy goes a long way towards strengthening your immune system.

As stated earlier, the shingles disease strives on weak immune systems so the only, and most effective, way to fight it is to stop it dead in its tracks. Another effective way to fight the good fight is to avoid people who have either shingles or the chicken-pox, especially if you have never had the former before. You cannot catch shingles from someone who has it, but you can catch the chicken-pox. While it may not be as dangerous as the shingles disease, it is still bad for you during such a critical time. It is easier in the long run to simply avoid that which makes you uncomfortable or nervous. A mommy with a healthy mindset as well as a healthy body has a greater chance of birthing a healthy baby. Just like anything else, there is a time period which is the most dangerous for both yourself and the baby to become infected with the disease. A few days before the actual birth of your baby is the worst time to contract shingles disease. Before then would have brought complications true, but so close to the actual birth could be life-threatening for a newborn. Because they are so new, your body has not had enough time to pass along enough life-saving antibodies. In addition, since the baby is still so young and underdeveloped they cannot yet create some for themselves, nor do they have any immune system to speak of. Not a very effective one anyway. In order to give our children the start that they need for a full and healthy life, we should start at the basics.

Talk to Your Doctor

Taking care of ourselves by getting vaccines for things like shingles could save the life of our offspring no matter if that was the original intention or not. Our children should not be treated out of their lives simply because we did not do everything we could for not only them, but ourselves as well. The chicken-pox may not seem like a big deal, but the same cannot be said of shingles. Talk to your doctor and get whatever tests you need for no other reason than this: If someone grown can barely survive a shingles outbreak, then what can we reasonably expect from a baby who is no more than a few hours old?

Since Shingles can harm your unborn child you should be extra weary to avoid this disease during this period. If some symptoms of the disease occur you should visit a doctor immediately.