Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus -- varicella-zoster. Unfortunately, that often raises questions and concerns about the possibility of getting shingles even after you've had chicken pox. Here's what you need to know.
Unfortunately, yes. Anyone who has had chicken pox and recovered can develop shingles. This is because both conditions are caused by the same virus. And once you've been infected, that same virus -- varicella-zoster -- can enter your nervous system. Fortunately, it can remain dormant there for years at a time, and potentially for your entire life! That means not everyone who had chicken pox as a child will develop shingles later on, though it's certainly possible. When the virus does reactivate, it travels along neural pathways and makes its way to the surface of your skin, which results in the shingles skin rash. The reason that shingles often develops later in life is unclear, but it's thought to have something to do with a reduced immunity to infections that comes with age. That being said, it's also possible for young adults and even children to develop shingles after having chicken pox.
If you aren't immune to chicken pox, either from having chicken pox or receiving the immunization, then it's possible for you to contract the varicella-zoster virus from someone else. Fortunately, this typically only happens via direct contact with the open sores that come with the shingles rash. But once infected by the varicella-zoster virus, you won't develop shingles. If you're not immune to chicken pox, you will develop chicken pox instead. This, in turn, may lead to the development of shingles later on in life. So while shingles isn't terribly contagious, it's still important to take caution.
Anyone who has had chicken pox or is not immune to chicken pox is at risk for developing shingles. That being said, there are a few factors that may increase the likelihood that you will develop shingles. Age is one of the most important factors to consider. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop shingles, and the risk only increases as they grow older. Certain diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer, which weaken the immune system, can also increase the likelihood of developing shingles.
If you're concerned about shingles, there are a few key signs to look out for. While plenty of types of skin rashes involve some redness, shingles is going to develop fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over. They'll look a little like hives on skin before they crust over. Before those develop, you may experience pain or a burning sensation, itchiness, sensitivity to touch, and a red rash that develops a few days after the pain has started. It's also possible to experience fever, headache, and sensitivity to light when shingles start to develop.
If you think you're at risk for shingles, don't hesitate to see a doctor. For answers to your questions and an effective treatment program, set up an appointment at North Pacific Dermatology to see which treatment is right for you today.