If you had chickenpox as a child, you might remember the itchy red bumps that covered your skin. Maybe you stayed home from school resting and drenching yourself in calamine lotion. If you did have chickenpox, it’s reassuring to know that it’s very rare to have more than one case of it in a lifetime. However, having had chickenpox means you may develop another virus called shingles. Learn the signs and symptoms of this illness so you can recognize it early on and begin pursuing treatment.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is a virus that causes an itchy, painful rash on your skin. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same pathogen that causes chickenpox. In order to get shingles, you have to have had chickenpox at some point in your life. Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus never fully leaves your body. Instead, it lies dormant in nerves near your brain and spine. Later on, the virus that’s lying dormant re-activates and travels along your nerves to your skin. Instead of coming back as chickenpox again, it appears as shingles.
Although the same virus causes both illnesses, shingles differs from chickenpox in a few key ways. People typically experience chickenpox in childhood, while shingles often appears in later adulthood. Chickenpox often begins with flu-like symptoms before causing a bumpy, itchy, red rash. Shingles, however, mostly causes nerve pain and a severe rash. While chickenpox is highly contagious, shingles is not as easy to spread. And, you can’t catch shingles from someone else who has it if you’ve never had chickenpox. Instead, you’ll develop chickenpox.
In order to get shingles, you have to have had chickenpox at some point in your life. Doctors are still unsure why the varicella-zoster virus reappears this way, typically later in adulthood. However, they believe it may have something to do with the fact that, in general, people’s immune systems begin to weaken as they age. People who’ve had shingles also commonly note that it appears during stressful times in their lives, such as when a loved one passes or they’re enduring some tribulations at work. It likely isn’t the stress itself that makes the virus reappear, though. Stress can suppress your immune system, giving the virus an opportunity to begin causing symptoms of shingles.