Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

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Herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles, is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body and can reactivate years later, leading to shingles. This article will provide valuable insights into the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for shingles.

Pain: The Unmistakable Symptom

One of the most prominent symptoms of shingles is pain. The pain associated with shingles can range from mild to severe and is often described as a burning, itching, or tingling sensation. This pain is usually localized to one side of the body or face and can be accompanied by a rash.

The Telltale Rash and Blisters

Shortly after the onset of pain, a rash typically appears. The rash consists of small, red bumps that develop into fluid-filled blisters. These blisters can be quite painful and may take several weeks to heal. It is important to avoid scratching or picking at the blisters to prevent infection.

Fever, Headache, and Fatigue

In addition to pain and rash, shingles can also cause other flu-like symptoms. Many individuals with shingles experience fever, headache, and fatigue. These symptoms can make it difficult to carry out daily activities and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life.

Sensitivity to Light: A Lesser-Known Symptom

While not as commonly known, sensitivity to light can also be a symptom of shingles. Some individuals with shingles may find that their eyes become sensitive to light, making it uncomfortable to be in brightly lit environments. This sensitivity can be managed by wearing sunglasses or avoiding bright lights.

Causes and Risk Factors

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which remains dormant in the body after a person recovers from chickenpox. The exact reason why the virus reactivates is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to a weakened immune system. Certain factors can increase the risk of developing shingles, including age, stress, and certain medical conditions.

Treatment Options

While there is no cure for shingles, there are several treatment options available to help manage the symptoms and promote healing. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms to receive appropriate treatment. Antiviral medications can help reduce the severity and duration of the infection if taken within 72 hours of the rash appearing.


In addition to antiviral medications, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help alleviate the pain associated with shingles. Topical creams or ointments containing capsaicin or lidocaine can also provide temporary relief.

Home Remedies

There are several home remedies that can help alleviate the discomfort of shingles. Applying a cool compress to the affected area can help soothe the pain and reduce inflammation. Taking a warm bath with colloidal oatmeal or baking soda can also provide relief. It is important to avoid hot water as it can worsen the symptoms.

Prevention and Vaccination

While it is not possible to completely prevent shingles, there is a vaccine available that can reduce the risk of developing the infection. The shingles vaccine is recommended for individuals aged 50 and older, even if they have previously had shingles. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine if the vaccine is appropriate.


Shingles is a painful viral infection that can cause significant discomfort and impact a person’s daily life. Recognizing the symptoms, seeking prompt medical attention, and following appropriate treatment options can help manage the symptoms and promote healing. While there is no cure for shingles, there are various medications and home remedies available to alleviate pain and discomfort. Additionally, vaccination can help reduce the risk of developing shingles. By understanding the symptoms and treatment options, individuals can take proactive steps to manage this condition effectively.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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