What is Shingles?

What is Shingles?

Shingles is a medical condition that occurs as a result of the reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body. Hence, this infection primarily affects people who have had chickenpox in the past.

While anyone can develop the condition, it is more prevalent among adults above 50 years. This is because the immune system becomes weaker with age, allowing the reactivation of the shingles pathogen in the body. Fortunately, shingles is not a life-threatening illness.

That being said, the infection can cause painful and uncomfortable symptoms. The good news is that your older loved one can treat or prevent the condition altogether. If your older relatives have shingles, there are select foods to help reduce the length of time of its outbreak; click here to find out more.

In this article, we’ll discuss what is shingles while explaining its symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

What Does Shingles Mean?

What is shingles? It has its origins in the same pathogen responsible for chickenpox, which almost all individuals tend to contract early in life. Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that results in an itchy, pus-like rash throughout the body. After the chickenpox infection runs its course and leaves, the causative agent stays in the body’s nervous system for years before re-emerging as shingles.

Shingles can also be called herpes zoster disease, and it is often distinguished by a red rash on the skin. This rash typically comes as a stripe of blisters — with a burning and painful sensation — on one part of the body, usually the torso, neck, or face.

It is worth noting that shingles is not a life-threatening condition and, in most cases, should clear up and dry out after 3 to 5 weeks. That said, certain complications may arise from a shingles infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Shingles

Pain and burning sensations are some of the early symptoms an infected person will notice. However, there are several other health conditions that present these symptoms. So, it might be quite difficult for your older loved ones to identify a shingles infection if they don’t know exactly how it manifests in the body..

This begs the question — what does shingles look like? Here are the general signs and symptoms of the condition below:

  • reddish rash that affects a single side — either right or left — of the body. It could be on the chest, abdomen, back, or face
  • a rash on the face and ears
  • itchiness
  • a rash surrounded by fluid-filled blisters that break easily
  • a burning sensation

Besides the blisters and pain, one may experience other symptoms, including:

  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness

Shingles on Different Parts of the Body

Shingles can appear on various parts of the body, albeit it only affects one side — either right or left — of the body. Here are the different body parts that the infection can affect and the symptoms specific to each area.


When an individual is infected with shingles, rashes can appear on one side of their face, though it is relatively uncommon. If the blisters are near the ear, there can be infections that result in:

  • hearing difficulties
  • inability to balance on both feet
  • weakness in facial muscles

Also, shingles can be present inside the mouth, causing eating difficulties and loss of taste sensation.


Shingles also affect some persons in and around one eye. It is medically known as ophthalmic herpes zoster or herpes zoster ophthalmicus. Such people may find a fluid-filled rash around their eyelids, forehead area overlying the eye, and perhaps the side of their nose.

The following characterizes a case of shingles on the eye:

  • tingling sensation in the eye
  • inflammation
  • uncontrolled tearing
  • swelling
  • clouded vision


Although it is more common for shingles rashes to appear toward the waistline, one may sometimes find a streak of blisters on one side of the upper back.

Causes of Shingles

Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in shingles cases in older Canadians. But what causes shingles in the first place? The primary cause of shingles is infection by the varicella-zoster virus, which is also responsible for chickenpox. After years of dormancy in the nervous system, this pathogen may reappear to induce shingles in the body.

While there is one major cause of shingles in the body, there are other varying factors that often contribute to its re-emergence.

Below are the risk factors that can influence shingles infection:

  • a compromised immune system
  • people aged 60 years and above are more susceptible
  • emotional stress
  • undergoing chemotherapy or postoperative treatment

Treatment of Shingles

As with other viral infections, shingles has no cure. But after a diagnosis from a trained healthcare professional, one should still treat the condition in order to prevent further complications and enable a faster recovery.

The following are the medications that a doctor may prescribe for shingles treatment.

  • antiviral medications to decrease pain and speed up recovery.
  • anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling
  • narcotic or pain-relief medications to ease pain
  • anticonvulsants or tricyclic antidepressants to treat long-term discomfort
  • antihistamines to deal with itching
  • numbing creams, gels, or patches to reduce pain
  • capsaicin to help lessen the risk of nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia, which often occurs after recovery

Prevention of Shingles

Getting vaccination shots can help your older relatives prevent severe shingles symptoms and complications. One of these vaccines is known as Shingrix — a recombinant zoster vaccine. There is also the varicella-zoster immunization, which is primarily for adults above 50 years.

That being said, your older loved ones should consult their physician before making a choice on their vaccination option, especially if they are allergic to an active ingredient of the vaccine or have a compromised immune system due to an illness or medication.


Now, you should be aware of what is shingles, and its symptoms, causes, prevention measures, treatment, and so on. With an adequate amount of care, the viral infection can be properly treated and managed.

That said, it is advised that your older loved ones visit a doctor within the first three days of noticing any symptoms of shingles.

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