Why Does One Get Shingles?

What is Shingles?

This is a type of viral infection resulting in a painful rash. The rash can form anywhere on your body but is most commonly found on the right or left side of your torso. The rash often appears as a strip of blisters wrapping around this area. The varicella-zoster virus is responsible for triggering this condition, as well as chickenpox.

If you have ever had chickenpox, the virus remains in your nerve tissue close to your brain and spinal cord in an inactive state. Reactivation of the virus can occur many years later in the form of this condition. Even though it is not life-threatening, many people use a natural shingles cream to help cope with the severe pain.

You can decrease your risk and potential complications with a vaccine. Postherpetic neuralgia is the most common complication. This results in pain for an extended period of time after the blisters have disappeared.

Risk Factors

If you have ever had chickenpox, you can develop this condition. The majority of Americans had chickenpox prior to the development of a vaccination. All of the following factors increase your risk.

  • This condition most frequently occurs in adults over the age of 50.
  • Cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiation decrease your resistance.
  • Specific diseases weaken the immune system including cancer and HIV/AIDS.
  • Medications developed to prevent transplanted organs from being rejected increase your risk including certain steroids.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms generally impact a small area on one side of the body. The most common signs include:

  • Burning, tingling, pain or numbness
  • Formation of a red rash several days after the pain begins
  • Sensitivity when the area is touched
  • Itching
  • Blisters filled with fluid often breaking open and crusting over
  • Depending on the severity, you may also experience:
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Light sensitivity

The initial symptom is generally a pain. In some cases, the pain is intense. Depending on where the pain is located, you can be misdiagnosed as having kidney, lung, or heart problems. Even if you do not develop a rash, you can still experience pain. In addition to appearing on one side of your torso, a rash can also develop on one side of your face or neck or around one of your eyes.

Potential Complications

If you develop postherpetic neuralgia, you will continue to feel pain after your rash is gone. This happens due to the confused pain messages sent by damaged nerve fibers to your brain and skin. You need to have the correct treatment for your blisters or risk developing a bacterial skin infection. If the rash is around or in your eye, you can get an infection, often resulting in vision loss. Depending on the nerves impacted, neurological issues are possible. If your brain becomes inflamed, the result can be issues with balance or hearing and facial paralysis. The best cream for shingles is dependent on your specific symptoms and level of pain.

Are Shingles Contagious?

If you have the varicella-zoster virus, you can pass this condition to any individual not immune to chickenpox. This can happen when direct contact is made with a rash containing open sores. Once the infection has spread, the individual infected will develop chickenpox. For certain individuals, chickenpox is often dangerous. Once the blisters are completely scabbed, the infection risk is over. If you have this condition, you need to eliminate all physical contact with anyone not receiving the chickenpox vaccine or having come down with chickenpox. The groups at the highest risk are newborn babies, pregnant women, and individuals with a weakened immune system.

When to Consult with a Physician

If you suspect you have this condition or any of the following situations has occurred, consult with your physician.

  • You have a rash and pain close to your eye. Failing to treat the infection can cause permanent damage to your eye.
  • Your rash is painful and widespread with no relief from the best cream for shingles.
  • You are above the age of 60. Your risk increases with age.
  • You or a family member have had a chronic illness or cancer or are using medications resulting in a weakened immune system.


Once you have recovered from chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains dormant in your nervous system for years. This virus can eventually reactivate, then travel to your skin using your nerve pathways. Even if you have had chickenpox, this condition may never develop. Although there is no definitive answer for why some people develop this condition and others do not, there are speculations.

The answer may be decreased immunity to infections due to age. This condition is the most common among older adults with weakened immune systems. Varicella-zoster is classified among herpes viruses, including those resulting in genital herpes and cold sores.


You may be able to prevent this condition with a vaccine. If you are interested in receiving the vaccine, there are two options, Zostavax and Shingrix. The FDA approved Shingrix in 2017. This vaccine is considered preferable to Zostavax. Studies suggest you can receive protection for a minimum of five years with Shingrix. This vaccine consists of a virus component and is a nonliving vaccine.

You need to receive two separate doses, six months apart. This vaccine is recommended and approved if you are above the age of 50, have previously had shingles or received Zostavax in the past. Zostavax offers you protection for approximately five years. You need one injection of this vaccine in your upper arm. The recommendation is for individuals with a minimum age of 60.

As of 2020, Zostavax is no longer available for sale within the United States. Other countries are still offering this vaccine. If you suspect you may have this condition, consult with a physician and consider using only the best shingles cream. The vaccine does have some fairly common side effects including:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Itching at the site of injection
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Headaches

There is no guarantee you will not get this condition after the vaccine. The vaccine generally decreases the severity and course of the condition in addition to the risk of postherpetic neuralgia. The vaccine is meant as a strategy for prevention.

Scroll to Top