It’s not uncommon for people to ask themselves “how long does shingles last?” The answer is usually a range and depends on several factors. Let’s discuss how the duration of this condition can be affected by: age, whether or not there was chickenpox as a child, and if you have an immune system that struggles to fight off infections.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a virus caused by the herpes zoster virus. It can cause very painful, itchy rashes in the affected area. Not everyone has symptoms when they contract shingles and there are treatments available to help relieve pain (e.g., over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, shingles ointment).
If not treated right away or properly you could end up with long term repercussions that will affect how long does shingles last . Understanding how these factors play into how your body heals itself after contracting this condition is crucial to understanding its duration for each individual person.
How age affects how long does shingles last
The older you are, the more likely you are to experience severe symptoms and complications from contracting shingles. This is because as we age, our immune system weakens. The elderly are also more likely to develop post-herpetic neuralgia which is a condition that results in chronic pain.
If you contracted chickenpox as a child, then there’s a good chance that you will contract this condition later in life. This is because the herpes zoster virus lies dormant in the nervous tissue after someone has had chickenpox and can reactivate years later.
How an impaired immune system affects duration
The immune system is how your body fights off infections. If you’re someone who has a difficult time fighting of even the common cold, then this will affect the duration of this condition. In addition to having an impaired immune system from HIV or other health conditions that cause immunosuppression , there are medications that can increase your chances on how long does shingles last as well (e.g., steroids).
Duration will vary for each person
It’s important to know shingles duration last because you don’t want this condition to negatively impact your life. If left untreated, it can lead to other complications like PHN (postherpetic neuralgia) or blindness.
However, if taken cared of properly and treated immediately with antiviral medication, shingles last should only be about six weeks.
Vaccines against shingles are also available and widely proven to be effective. Shingrix is an FDA-approved vaccine that effectively reduces the risk of getting shingles by up to 97%.
First signs of shingles
The first few signs usually include a tingling, burning or itching sensation in the area where the rash will develop. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment.
Shingles can manifest a variety of symptoms at the outset. These might be as mild as irritated skin and discomfort to severe fever, along with other signs of significant sickness.
Shingles often persists for 3 to 5 weeks. The first few days may go by without any rashes being seen. Early symptoms might include:
- pain on just a single side of the body, such as burning or pinching
- stomach issues, including vomiting and diarrhea
- a sensation of numbness, tingling, or shooting pains on only a single side of the body’s skin
- feelings of sickness and fatigue
People who are experiencing the symptoms above and have had chickenpox in the past should be carefully examined to confirm that they may be suffering from shingles. It’s more likely to be shingles if a person has several risk factors for the disease.
A red rash appears one to five days after the onset of skin tingling and burning for most people. The rash typically transforms a few days later into tiny fluid filled bubbles. After the fluid inside the rash has dried, crusty blisters form seven to ten days later. The scabs should disappear in a few weeks’ time.
These are more likely to occur if the immune system is not working properly. This can be due to medications that suppress immunity or because of an underlying illness where the body’s defenses are compromised, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS , or other conditions.
People with these conditions may have a more severe rash and lasting pain.
Internal shingles affects the entire body, including internal organs, in people who have it. They are more prevalent among older persons and those who are sicker. In individuals who have it, there is a greater danger of long-term problems such as chronic pain.
They are are more likely to cause severe pain, and some individuals will experience discomfort in several locations on their bodies.
It’s important to note that not having a rash does not imply that you don’t have shingles.
What causes shingles?
Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which also causes chickenpox. VZV remains inactive in the nervous system after someone has chickenpox, but it can reappear years later.
Most people who get shingles have had chickenpox before. However, you don’t need to have had chickenpox to get shingles. This condition can occur in individuals who have never had chickenpox or those whose immunity has been weakened for other reasons.
Is it contagious?
It is contagious, but it can’t be spread from person to person. The virus spreads only when the lesions are still present and not covered with a scab or other protective covering (such as clothes). If you have come in contact with someone’s rash during this time, consult your doctor for advice about whether antiviral medications would benefit you.
Shingles healing time
Shingles typically heals within two to four weeks, although some people may have lingering pain for months or longer. A very small percentage of individuals who get this condition will develop long-term complications, such as persistent pain (neuropathic pain), scars, and vision problems.
There is no one definitive answer to how long does shingles last. Duration can depend on a number of factors, including the person’s age and health, how severe the rash is, and whether it develops internally. However, in general, most cases clear up within three to five weeks. If you are experiencing unusual symptoms or you have a history of chickenpox, it is important to speak with your doctor right.
While the vast majority of people who get shingles will not experience any long-term complications, there are some potential risks to be aware of. These include:
- Persistent pain: For a minority of people who get this condition, the pain can persist for months or even years after the rash clears up. This is known as neuropathic pain and can be quite debilitating.
- Scars: Some people may develop scars on the skin where they had the shingles rash.
- Vision problems: It can also cause inflammation and damage to the eye, which may lead to vision loss. This complication is more common in older adults.
- Other health problems: In rare cases, shingles can also lead to other health problems, such as pneumonia, meningitis, or encephalitis. If you experience any unusual symptoms after getting shingles, be sure to speak with your doctor.