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What Is Shingles and How Can I Avoid it?

You’ve likely heard of shingles, but you don’t know exactly what it is beyond your impression that it’s painful, lasts for a while, and is kind of mysterious.

At Sulkowski Family Medicine in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Dr. Thomas Sulkowski and our expert team have seen many shingles cases over the years, so we’d like to fill you in on what the disease is, what causes it, and how you can avoid getting it.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful rash that appears on one side of your face or body, usually in a stripe. The rash consists of blisters that break easily. They usually scab over in 7-10 days and clear up within 2-4 weeks.

Symptoms include burning, shooting pain, and tingling in the area where the rash appears — usually on the torso, neck, or face. Even after the rash clears up, some people develop nerve pain from the virus that can last for months or years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 1 in 3 Americans develops shingles during their lifetime. There’s no cure for shingles, but you should see a doctor as soon as possible after developing a rash. 

Early treatment can prevent complications and help you recover more quickly.

What causes shingles?

If you’ve had chickenpox (as 99% of Americans born before 1980 have), you’re at risk for shingles. Both are caused by the varicella-zoster virus; if you have chickenpox, the virus lives in your system even after the initial infection clears up. It can activate years later as shingles.

Shingles itself isn’t contagious, but you can spread the varicella-zoster virus to someone who hasn’t had chickenpox, and they could then develop chickenpox. (So you can’t get shingles from someone else with shingles, but you can get chickenpox.)

The virus is spread only when someone comes into contact with an oozing blister. If you’ve covered the blisters or they’ve already formed scabs, you’re no longer contagious. 

How can you prevent shingles?

If you have shingles, you can prevent it from spreading to others by keeping the rash site clean and covered. You should also try to avoid touching the blisters as much as possible, and make sure you wash your hands frequently.

The best way to avoid getting shingles in the first place is to get one of the two vaccines that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 60 get a shingles vaccine.

If you think you have shingles, contact Sulkowski Family Medicine as soon as possible so we can begin treatment. You can reach our office by phone or you can book your own appointment with our convenient online scheduler.

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