Shingles is a typically red rash that often appears on one side of the body, and is often accompanied by a tingling, burning, itching or even a deep pain. It is caused by the same virus as chickenpox.

Overview and Symptoms

If you’ve ever contracted chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in your nerves. In about 10 to 20 percent of people, it will one day resurface as shingles.  Shingles which develop around the eyes — known as ocular shingles — can be particularly dangerous.

Medications such as chemotherapy drugs or prednisone can also weaken the immune system enough to give the virus an opportunity to present as shingles. Other risk factors include cancer and chronic lung and kidney disease.

Normally, your doctor will be able to easily identify shingles when they see a rash around the left or right side of your body. If necessary, lab tests can study cells taken from a blister to be certain.


Antiviral treatment is available, and is most effective when it’s started within 72 hours. This treatment reduces the severity and duration of pain and helps the skin rash heal more quickly. Cold compresses and over-the-counter ointments can also ease symptoms.

Antiviral eye drops are often an effective treatment for ocular shingles.

A shingles vaccine is available, though not 100 percent effective. Pregnant women and people with diseases or medications which weaken the immune system should not get vaccinated.  If you’re unsure whether you’ve ever had chickenpox, it is often recommended to request a simple blood test to find out before getting the vaccine – the vaccine can destroy your natural immunity if you have not had chickenpox.

Infectious Diseases

The Division of Infectious Diseases is dedicated to offering the highest quality, most compassionate care to help you manage your condition.

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