Caused by the same virus (varicella zoster) as chickenpox, shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful, bumpy, blister-like skin rash on the face or body, usually on one side or the other, but can also be more widespread. Some people experience pain, itching, burning, or tingling before the rash appears. While not contagious, the virus is able to spread and cause chickenpox in others. From established research, we know that this virus never leaves the body after recovering from a childhood case of chickenpox, but lingers dormant in the nerve cells throughout life. Many decades later, this virus is reactivated as shingles—most likely due to aging-related weakened immune responses.
After the blisters scab over in about a week, an all-too-common complication of shingles is severe pain in the rash area called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). While this typically clears up within a few months, some patients continue to experience pain for several years. Rare, but more serious complications include eye issues or blindness, hearing problems, pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or even death.