Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
April 14, 2021
Shingles and chickenpox come from the same virus, the varicella-zoster virus, and they are different outbreaks of that same virus. This virus is one of the 9 types of herpes viruses that can infect humans.
First, you get chickenpox from the varicella-zoster virus, an itchy and painful rash that will go away with time. This usually occurs during childhood. Once the body has been exposed to chickenpox, it is immune to ever getting it again.
As the CDC puts it, “Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. This virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.”
Shingles are also referred to as herpes zoster.
For quick and easy shingles treatment online, our partners at PlushCare can help. Plushcare offers access to affordable same-day appointments with board-certified physicians, so you can schedule a time with them to get confirmation of your shingles diagnosis and get the proper medications prescribed here.
Years after you had chickenpox, the virus might reactivate itself as shingles. Shingles symptoms come out as a red patch of bumps on your skin, which later turn into blisters that crust over. It can appear anywhere, but it most commonly occurs on one side of your torso. Sometimes it will be around one eye or side of your face.
Initial shingles symptoms include:
As symptoms progress, you might experience:
First, you will suffer numbness in the area where the shingles will soon appear on your skin.
The second stage is blistering, which often bursts after a few days. This can not only be very painful, but it also makes you contagious. If someone comes into contact with the resultant pus, they can be infected by chickenpox too. Make sure, during this stage, to stay at home and keep yourself isolated.
After about one week, the blisters will scab over and start to heal and become smaller until they fade away. The virus can become active again at any point.
Anyone who has suffered from chickenpox can get shingles, and shingles are contagious to those who haven’t gotten the chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. If someone who is not immune comes in contact with an active shingles infection, they could break out in shingles. Ways that it spreads include:
Unlike other herpes strains, shingles can be spread through any particulates from an infected person and direct contact with the skin. So if you sneeze or cough, you can infect someone with the varicella-zoster virus (VZV).
If you are suffering shingles, you should avoid contact with anyone who is not immune, especially pregnant women, babies, elderly people, and people who have weak immune systems.
For many people, the best option is a shingles vaccine, and there are two different types:
It is important to note that the vaccine is not a guarantee that you won’t get shingles, nor is it a way to treat yourself if you have it. It is a preventative measure only, but it is the best option out there if you are looking for prevention.
If you have already suffered from chickenpox (so you have the varicella-zoster virus in your system), you can speak with a doctor about confirming your shingles diagnosis. All they can do is prescribe you medication, but this can make a huge difference in managing your symptoms until they go away. Some examples of medication a doctor will prescribe for shingles include:
Using over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also help with symptoms. You can also make an appointment with our partners at PlushCare to get treatment from their experienced doctors here.
Do your best to relax and get the proper rest your body needs while it’s fighting the virus. Walk around, listen to music, binge a movie series, and wear loose-fitting clothing that won’t rub against your blisters. Use cool compresses to ease the rash’s pain, and make sure to keep the rash clean and dry.
If you cover it with ointment, the blisters may not burst and scab over – which is an important part of your recovery. Your doctor may prescribe you some pain medication to help deal with the itchiness and swelling.
The National Institute on Aging says, “After the shingles rash goes away, some people may be left with ongoing pain called post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN. The pain is felt in the area where the rash had been. For some people, PHN is the longest lasting and worst part of shingles.”
This is most common in elderly people or those with compromised immune systems.
According to the National Institute on Aging, “Most cases of shingles last three to five weeks.”
Recovering from shingles is pretty simple, and you mostly just need to wait out the outbreak, and give your body the proper rest. Shingles don’t have a cure, but you can take medication to stop the infection, or shorten it. Antiviral medications are your friend, especially in the early stages of shingles.
Besides antivirals, you can take different kinds of pain medications to deal with painful symptoms.
Once you have an active shingles infection, managing symptoms and shortening the duration of your infection are your best bet until the infection goes away on its own.
PlushCare doctors can help you get the right medication, give you advice on how to avoid infecting others, and stay as comfortable as possible for the duration of your shingles infection. Visit PlushCare’s site and make an appointment with a reliable online physician here.
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