Shingles is known medically as herpes zoster, a term which stems from the Latin term for belt because the disease tends to cause a belt shaped rash. Those who have contracted chickenpox keep this virus dormant in the nerves of their body. Years later this virus can reactivate, causing shingles or herpes zoster to appear. People often ask how long shingles lasts and if there are any remedies to speed up the healing process.
How Long does Shingles Last?
Shingles may be apparent even if you have not developed a rash. Before a shingles rash appears, the patient may experience sensitivity or a burning pain for a few days or up to a week. This pain may be severe, particularly for those who have never had a shingles outbreak before.
Shingles will start by developing small blisters that have a red base. New blisters will continue to form for 3-5 days, following a path of the nerves which stem from the spinal cord. This will create a “ray like” pattern known as a dermatomal pattern that will create a band across the skin. The entire nerve pathway may develop these blisters, or some areas may develop more of a reaction than others. In most cases only one nerve level will have an outbreak, but in rare cases multiple nerves will be affected. Over time these blisters will pop and begin to ooze until they crust over and start to heal. The whole length of this outbreak may be 3-4 weeks. Pain may be present, but in some cases you will never see blisters, which can confuse the location of your discomfort. However, the duration of shingles also vary for people in different ages, check the following chart for more detailed information:
How Long Is Shingles Contagious?
Shingles is considered contagious and can be spread from those that are affected to adults, children or babies that have not yet developed chickenpox or been vaccinated for the condition. These individuals will develop chicken pox instead of shingles. If you have already had chicken pox you cannot contract the virus to develop shingles from others. But once you have had this disease you are at risk to develop shingles later.
Shingles is only contagious to those that have never experienced chicken pox while new blisters are forming and the old blisters are healing. Just like chicken pox, the time prior to the blisters crusting and healing is the most contagious stage of the singles outbreak. Once all of the blisters have crusted over the virus cannot be spread further.
What Are the Home Remedies for Shingles?
How long does shingles last? It varies for people of different age, but you can certainly do something to relieve the discomfort.
- You may bathe during a shingles outbreak and cleans the blistered area with soap and water. Anti-itch lotions including calamine lotion can help to relieve discomfort.
- Some also find relief in placing cool compresses on the rash.
- Aluminum acetate (Burow's or Domeboro) solutions available at your pharmacy which can help stop the blisters from oozing so they will dry up more quickly.
- Applying petroleum jelly can also help with this process.
- Over the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl and pain medications can also limit symptoms.
- Cloth rubbing against the rash can cause additional discomfort, so wear loose clothing.
- Avoid any skin to skin contact with those that have not had chickenpox, those with a weakened immune system or anyone who is ill.
What Are the Medications for Shingles?
Shingles can be treated with a few different options.
- Antiviral drugs such as valacyclovir, acyclovier or famciclovier can reduce the duration and severity of a shingles rash if they are taken within 72 hours of it appearing.
- Pain medications, anti-inflammatories and narcotic pain control substances can be used to reduce the discomfort associated with shingles.
- Those suffering from postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) may require additional medication including opioids like morphine or oxycodone to minimize the pain.
- Topical corticosteroids can be used to take down pain and inflammation from a shingles outbreak, but these should only be used under the direct supervision of your doctor.
Note that some patients find that these medications make their symptoms worse.
Can Shingles Be Prevented by Vaccines?
As of May 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has approved a vaccine for adult shingles known as Zostavax. This is approved for use in those who are over 50 and have had chickenpox. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those over 60 who have had chickenpox should have this vaccine.
This vaccine is a onetime injection that requires no repeat treatments. It contains a booster dose of the chickenpox vaccine that is provided to children. Tests that were conducted over a 4 year period showed that having this vaccine significantly reduced the risk of adults suffering from a shingles outbreak. It was found to be 60 percent effective in reducing symptoms and limited the appearance of PHN by two thirds. Ongoing studies are being used to evaluate the effectiveness of this vaccine long-term. Those that have already experienced a shingles outbreak can use this vaccine as a means of limiting the risk of a repeat attack.
You should not get the shingles vaccine if you are pregnant. Those who have undergone the shingles vaccine should wait three months before trying to become pregnant. Those who are using immune suppressing medications or have a weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, HIV, cancer treatment or other conditions should not get the shingles vaccine because it contains weakened but live viral particles. There is not yet enough research to determine if Zostavax is beneficial to those under the age of 60.