What is shingles, and how is it treated?

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Elaine Scott discusses geriatric health concerns.  Click play to watch the video or read the video transcript.


Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It can also cause severe pain that can last for months or years, even after the rash goes away.

After having chickenpox, the virus stays on your nerve cells. Years later it can become active again and travel to your skin.

Most people only have shingles once, but it is possible to get it repeatedly.

Risk Factors for Shingles

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, but some people are at greater risk. The following increase your risk of getting shingles:

  • Age - Being 50 or older
  • Weakened immune system - From an illness like HIV/AIDS
  • Cancer - Especially Hodgkin disease or lymphoma
  • Certain medications – Particularly those that suppress the immune system

Shingles Treatment

It is important to see your doctor right away if you think you have shingles.

If shingles is caught early, it can be treated with an anti-viral medication, which your doctor may prescribe. Medication can relieve pain, speed healing and lower the risk of complications.

But if you have had blisters from shingles for more than three days, the medication might not work.

People with shingles can put a cool compress on their skin, soak in a cool bath or use calamine lotion to help relieve some of the pain and itch.

Preventing Shingles

Adults older than 50 should get a vaccine to protect themselves against shingles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Talk with your physician for more information about shingles and treatment options for it.

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