Can this trigger shingles?

Can this trigger shingles?

When it comes to shingles, there’s no surefire way to prevent a flare-up of the painful skin rash. But managing day-to-day stress may help.

Herpes zoster, known as shingles, is caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. And it usually occurs after or is triggered by some sort of stressor, says Dr. Kevin Koo, a family medicine physician at Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill.

“A weakened immune system in general can lead to reactivation of the virus, which then causes the shingles rash to form,” Dr. Koo says. “Stress or trauma leads to elevated cortisol levels in the body, a hormone that then decreases the optimal functioning of the immune system, which is keeping the virus at bay.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in three adults nationwide will develop shingles at some point in their lifetime. The condition can affect any age and demographic, though people who are immunocompromised or over 50 years old are most at risk.

Pain, tingling and itching are usually the first signs of shingles, indicating the virus is attacking a specific nerve or group of nerves, Dr. Koo says. A rash will follow, appearing as small, red, fluid-filled domes or blisters on one side of the face or body.

Symptoms can also include fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach.

Patients showing signs of shingles should visit their primary care physician as soon as possible and begin antiviral medication within 72 hours, Dr. Koo said. Pain medications, including steroids, can be prescribed to help with neurological symptoms.

The rash typically scabs over in seven to 10 days and fully clears up within two to four weeks, according to the CDC. Long-term nerve pain, even after the rash subsides, is the most common complication, occurring in up to 18% of shingles cases.

Serious side effects can occur when the shingles virus attacks the facial nerve, leading to ear pain, tinnitus, hearing loss, decreased sense of taste, facial paralysis or painful sores of the ear canal and face. The rare neurological condition, called Ramsay Hunt syndrome, is what caused partial paralysis in popstar Justin Bieber’s face last year.

While there’s no definitive way to avoid shingles, a strong immune system and healthy lifestyle choices can significantly improve your chances, Dr. Koo says. Being vaccinated could also help fend off the viral infection among those who are most at risk.

“Work on relieving stress on a day-to-day basis, stay healthy mentally, eat well and get the shingles vaccine when appropriate,” Dr. Koo says.

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  1. How soon can someone get Shingles vaccine after a shingles episode?

  2. Lydie Mae Peterson May 11, 2023 at 11:42 am · Reply

    I had the Shingles 10 years ago it went from my hip down to my ankle. The doctor gave me pain medication and in less tan two weeks it was better. After my experience I went to get my first Shingles vaccine, and a few weeks later, I got my second Shingles vaccine! The vaccine is supposed to prevent you from getting Shingles!

  3. If you get a reoccurance of shingles will it be in the same place as the last one?

  4. This is my second time getting shingels should I get the vaccine and how
    long should I wait to get it?

  5. I had shingles appear above my eyebrow and it went into my eye causing corneal scaring, even though I took the antiviral medicine very early. I’ve since had a couple of flare-ups, one in the same eye and once over my other eye. The flare-ups happened after the first occurrence and after I had the vaccine. I tell everyone I know to get the vaccine. If I’d had the vaccine first I might never have had shingles and I wouldn’t be dealing with vision loss in my eye. If anyone is on the fence, hop off it and get the vaccine!

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About the Author

Lauren Rohr
Lauren Rohr

Lauren Rohr is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She studied journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and spent the last several years working as a news reporter covering public health, local government, politics, education and all facets of life in the Chicago suburbs. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, staying active and cheering on her favorite sports teams, especially the Chicago Blackhawks and the Fighting Illini.