Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.
The shingles rash develops into itchy blisters usually occurring on one side of the body either on the face, chest, back, abdomen or pelvis, and can take several weeks to settle.
Around 1 in 100 Australians who are older than 50, are thought to have had shingles at some stage.
If you have had chickenpox in the past, the virus stays in the nerve cells near the spine, but is not active. Shingles occurs when the virus becomes active again.
You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles. But, if you have not had chickenpox you can catch chickenpox by being in direct contact with fluid on the blisters of someone who has shingles.
Almost all people have had chickenpox by the time they turn 40 and may be at risk of developing shingles. Sometimes shingles can occur with no known trigger. However, shingles is more likely to occur if you:
- are older than 50, particularly those who are older than 80
- have HIV and AIDS
- have had an organ transplant
- have recently had a bone-marrow transplant
- have a condition which requires treatment that impacts the immune system, such as chemotherapy for cancer
- are experiencing physical and emotional stress.
Over-the counter medications such as paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, can be used for pain relief. If over-the-counter medicines aren’t controlling your pain, your doctor may prescribe other medicines such as opioids, anti-depressants and anticonvulsants .
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your shingles, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: July 2015