Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox.

It’s estimated that around one in every four people will have at least one episode of shingles during their life.

This topic covers:

Symptoms of Shingles
Causes of Shingles
Treating Shingles
Diagnosing Shingles

When To Seek Medical Advice

Shingles isn’t usually serious, but see your GP as soon as possible if you recognise the symptoms. They’ll usually be able to diagnose shingles based on your symptoms and the appearance of the rash.

Early treatment may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and the risk of developing complications.

Referral to hospital

It’s uncommon for someone with shingles to be referred to hospital, but your GP may consider seeking specialist advice if:

  • They suspect a complication of shingles, such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Shingles is affecting one of your eyes – there’s a risk you could develop permanent vision problems if the condition isn’t treated quickly
  • A diagnosis isn’t certain
  • You have an unusually persistent case of shingles that’s not responding to treatment
  • You’ve been diagnosed with the condition more than twice
  • You’re pregnant
  • You have a weakened immune system – particularly in severe cases or cases affecting children

Is Shingles Contagious?

It’s not possible to catch shingles from someone with the condition or from someone with chickenpox. However, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven’t had chickenpox before.

The blisters that form contain live virus. If a person who has never had chickenpox makes direct contact with an open blister or something with the fluid on it, they can contract the virus and develop chickenpox.

The Shingles Vaccine

It’s not always possible to prevent shingles, but a vaccine called Zostavax can reduce your chances of developing the condition.

If you still develop shingles after having this vaccine, it may be milder and last for a shorter time than usual.

This vaccine is now routinely offered on the NHS as a single injection to people aged 70 and 78.

Ophthalmic Shingles

Some cases of shingles can affect one of the eyes and are known as ophthalmic shingles. This occurs when the virus is reactivated in part of the trigeminal nerve, a nerve that controls sensation and movement in your face.

Symptoms can include:

  • A rash over your forehead, nose and around your eye
  • Conjunctivitis – inflammation of your eye that causes it to become red and watery with a sticky coating on your eyelashes
  • A red eye
  • Problems with your vision