Chronic Shingles

Chronic shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is the same virus that is behind chickenpox.


When you get chickenpox and its symptoms subside, the virus does not completely go away, but rather stays in your cells, though it remains inactive. It may become reactivated later on, maybe after years as shingles. To date, medical professionals have not been able to tell why this is the case.

Shingles are, at times, referred to as herpes zoster. It is a term that comes from a Latin word that means girdle. The term implies how this condition at times appears as a belt or as a girdle, and will normally form on one side of your torso. It is also common to notice the shingles on areas such as:

  • Eyes
  • Arms
  • Thighs
  • Ear
  • Head

It is estimated that close to one million people in the United States contract this condition each year. Additionally, out of every three people, one of them will get shingles in the course of their lives. Research indicates that close to 68% of all reported cases normally occur in people who are above the age of 50 years. Anyone who lives for over 85 years will normally have a 50% chance of getting this condition.

Unlike chickenpox, it is possible to get shingles more than once. Although less common, the condition is known as recurring shingles.

Chronic Shingles—what are its symptoms?

Pain is normally the first shingles symptom. Apart from pain, you could also experience a burning or tingling sensation in the affected region within days of infection. After a few days, you will start to notice the development of a group of reddish, fluid-filled blisters, which may start to break open before crusting over.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Itchiness in the affected region
  • Light sensitivity
  • Skin sensitivity in the affected region
  • Fatigue accompanied by other symptoms associated with flu

Recurring shingles will also have similar symptoms. In many instances, it will occur in the same place as the first time it occurred. However, there is a 45% chance that the new outbreak could be in a different part of the body.

How often do shingles recur?

Data on the recurrence of shingles is severely limited. However, in a study conducted in Minnesota in 2011, it was established that there is a 6% chance of people who have gotten shingles in the past getting them again. Basically, this research data shows that your chances of getting shingles again is similar to the very first time that you got the shingles.

However, it has not yet been established the length of time it will take for shingles to recur. In the study mentioned above, the recurrence time was not decisive as the time varied from one person to another. There are those who got it 96 days after the first occurrence, while others got it 10 years later. The study covered a timeframe of only 12 years.

Risk factors for recurring shingles

Scientists are yet to establish what causes shingles, but there are various risk factors that could increase a person’s chances of getting the shingles a second time.

It is common for people with weak immune systems to get shingles a second time. A recent study has shown that people with weakened immune systems have a 12% chance of getting this condition. When you compare the statistics, you will note that this figure is two times higher than that of individuals whose immune system is functioning properly.

You are likely to get a compromised immune system if:

  • You are currently taking high doses of prednisone—this is a type of corticosteroid medication
  • Are currently getting radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • Have AIDs or HIV
  • Have recently had an organ transplant

Additional risk factors for shingles include:

  • You are above 50 years old
  • You experienced long-lasting pain with your first case of shingles
  • You are a woman
  • You experience pain that lasted for more than 30 days when you got your first case of shingles

Another factor that increases your chances of getting shingles is if you have a blood relative that has developed shingles in the past.

Shingles treatment options

Shingles and recurring shingles both share the same treatment options. It is recommended that any person who suspects that they may have recurring shingles visit a physician as soon as they can. You should also note that taking antiviral medication has been seen to reduce its severity and the length of time that it gets to last. Depending on the condition’s severity, a physician could also prescribe certain medications. Such treatment will reduce the intensity of the pain while assisting you to sleep much better. Medications include:

  • Opioid painkillers. They have been known to assist in relieving pain, although they may be accompanied by numerous side effects, e.g., confusion and dizziness. Some of the painkillers can also be very addictive.
  • A skin patch lased with lidocaine. Lidocaine is a painkiller. The patch can be worn in the affected region for a certain period.
  • Antidepressants are useful in relieving pain and making it possible to enjoy quality sleep.
  • Skin patches with 8% capsaicin. This is a chili pepper extract. It helps people who are unable to tolerate the tingling sensation associated with a case of shingles.
  • Anti-seizure medications are at times prescribed by physicians. These medications are able to reduce pain by numbing or reducing the activity of your nerves. The downside to these medications is that they may come with side effects, which may limit the total amount of drugs that your body can be able to tolerate.

If the itching becomes too much and you do not have access to medication, you can always take a bath prepared using colloidal oatmeal. An alternative would be to use a cold compress, which would also enable you to reduce itching in the affected region. Additionally, consider resting and reducing your overall stress levels.

General outlook for people with shingles

It generally takes fourteen days for shingles to clear up from the affected region. In rare cases, you may continue to experience some pain even after the shingles rash has completely healed. The condition is known as PHN (postherpetic neuralgia). Medical experts have noted that close to 2% of people who get shingles will experience PHN for a period of five years. It is a risk that increases as a person gets older.

Generally, it is not possible to prevent shingles, but you can reduce your chances of getting it by being vaccinated. Studies show that people who have been vaccinated are 51% less likely to get this condition.