Ruth’s shingles caused so much pain  she couldn’t bear to put on her clothes or have the sheets touch her skin. Her shingles symptoms lasted for several months.
Sarah had it easier. Shingles only made her feel sick for a few days. She felt a little itchy for a while, but she was back to her old self in a few weeks.
Shingles is a disease that affects your nerves. It can cause burning, shooting pain, tingling, and/or itching , as well as a rash and blisters.
You may recall having chickenpox as a child. Shingles is caused by the same virus, the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). After you recover from chickenpox, the virus continues to live in some of your nerve cells. It is usually inactive, so you don’t even know it’s there.
In fact, most adults live with VZV in their bodies and never get shingles. But, for about one in three adults , the virus will become active again. Instead of causing another case of chickenpox, it produces shingles. We do not totally understand what makes the virus go from inactive to active.
Having shingles doesn’t mean you have any other underlying disease.
Everyone who has had chickenpox has VZV in their body and is at risk for getting shingles. Right now, there is no way of knowing who will get the disease. But, some things make it more likely:
Shingles is not contagious. You can’t catch it from someone. But, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles. So, if you’ve never had chickenpox, try to stay away from anyone who has shingles.
If you have shingles, try to stay away from anyone who has not had chickenpox or who might have a weak immune system.
Usually, shingles develops only on one side of the body or face and in a small area rather than all over. The most common place for shingles is a band that goes around one side of your waistline.
Most people have some of the following shingles symptoms:
Depending on where shingles develops, it could also cause symptoms like hiccups or even loss of vision.
For some people, the symptoms of shingles are mild. They might just have some itching. For others, shingles can cause intense pain that can be felt from the gentlest touch or breeze.
Most cases of shingles last 3 to 5 weeks. Shingles follows a pattern:
Most people get shingles only one time. But, it is possible to have it more than once.
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. The older you are when you get shingles, the greater your chance of developing PHN.
The PHN pain can cause depression , anxiety, sleeplessness , and weight loss. Some people with PHN find it hard to go about their daily activities, like dressing, cooking, and eating. Talk with your doctor  if you have any of these problems.
There are medicines  that may help with PHN. Steroids may lessen the pain and shorten the time you’re sick. Analgesics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants may also reduce the pain. Usually, PHN will get better over time.
Some people have other problems that last after shingles has cleared up. For example, the blisters caused by shingles can become infected. They may also leave a scar. It is important to keep the area clean and try not to scratch the blisters. Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic treatment if needed.
See your doctor right away if you notice blisters on your face—this is an urgent problem. Blisters near or in the eye can cause lasting eye damage or blindness. Hearing loss , a brief paralysis of the face, or, very rarely, swelling of the brain (encephalitis) can also occur.
If you think you might have shingles, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. It’s important to see your doctor no later than 3 days after the rash starts. The doctor will confirm whether or not you have shingles and can make a treatment plan . Although there is no cure for shingles, early treatment with drugs that fight the virus can help the blisters dry up faster and limit severe pain. Shingles can often be treated at home. People with shingles rarely need to stay in a hospital.
The shingles vaccine  is a safe and easy, one-time shot that may keep you from getting shingles. Most people age 60 and older should get vaccinated. You should get the shot even if you have already had shingles or don’t remember having chickenpox. However, if you have a weak immune system or allergies to certain medicines, make sure to check with your doctor first.
You can get the shingles vaccine at your doctor’s office and at some pharmacies. All Medicare Part D plans and most private health insurance plans will cover the cost.
If you have shingles, here are some tips that might help you feel better:
Also, you can limit spreading the virus by:
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
firstname.lastname@example.org  (email)
For more information on health and aging, contact:
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services