Shingles :: Nationwide Children's Hospital

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Shingles is an infection caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella zoster). After a person has had chickenpox, the virus stays in the body. Stress or a weakened immune system can trigger this virus to come back as shingles in people who have already had chickenpox.

If you had chickenpox or the chicken pox vaccine, you are not at risk of catching shingles from someone else. If you never had chickenpox or the vaccine, you can catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Burning or shooting pain, usually on one side of the body or face, can be an early sign of shingles.

  • Red bumps and blisters (usually in a narrow area on half of the body) that may be itchy or painful. These blisters last from 1 to 14 days. Shingles can be spread to others until the blisters are covered by scabs.

  • Eyes are sensitive to light.

  • Flu-like symptoms without fever

Dealing with the Discomfort

 You can do some things to help relieve the itchiness, fever and discomfort of shingles:  

Picture 1 - Oatmeal baths can ease pain and itching.
Image of Oatmeal baths
  • Use cool, moist compresses (like folded washcloths) or give baths in cool or lukewarm water every 3 to 4 hours for the first few days. Oatmeal baths, available at the supermarket or pharmacy, can help to relieve itching (Picture 1). After the bath, pat – do not rub – the body dry.

  • Put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but do not use it on the face, especially near the eyes).

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about using over-the-counter medication for itching. Ask your doctor about an antiviral drug, acyclovir. It must be used within 72 hours to have any effect.

  • Keep your child’s fingernails clean and trimmed.

Preventing Shingles

  • A vaccine, Zostavax®, is available, for people over the age of 60, that may help prevent shingles or lessen its harmful effects.

  • Besides Zostavax®, the chickenpox vaccine (Varivax®) may help to prevent shingles. This vaccine is given 2 times at least 3 months apart to healthy children 12 months through 12

  • years of age. Those who are 13 years or older and have no signs of immunity to chickenpox may be given 2 doses 4 to 8 weeks apart.

Pain after Shingles

Sometimes the pain of shingles continues after the rash has gone away.  If the pain lasts for 1 month or longer after the rash has gone away, the condition is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).  In some people the pain lessens, but in others, the pain continues.

When to Call the Doctor

Call the doctor if your child has:

  • A shingles rash that spreads to the face, especially near the eyes. Call immediately.

  • Fever that lasts more than 4 days or is higher than 102° F.

  • A severe cough or trouble breathing.

  • An area of rash that leaks pus (thick, discolored fluid) or becomes red, warm, swollen or sore.

  • Severe headache or stiff neck.

  • Unusual drowsiness; child seems confused or has trouble waking up.

  • Trouble looking at bright lights.

  • Difficulty walking.

  • Seems very ill or is vomiting.

Shingles (PDF)

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