The cause of shingles is the herpes zoster virus, specifically the varicella-zoster virus. This virus is actually quite well-known, because it is what leads to the common childhood illness that is chickenpox. In fact, when people develop chickenpox, which is one of the most common childhood illnesses, the virus becomes dormant inside the nerve cells. Most of the time, it remains dormant and people aren’t even aware of the fact that they still have the virus. However, sometimes, which is in around one in three people, the virus suddenly gets reactivated. Being the same virus, it behaves in similar ways as chickenpox. But because it stems from the nerve cells, it also does some very different things, which can be incredibly painful.
How Long Does Shingles Last?
When determining how long does shingles last, we find that this will vary. It is a disease that tends to go through a number of stages. First, the virus gets reactivated, after which it travels through the nerves. This leads to a tingling and burning sensation. After that, usually two to five days after that sensation, the virus makes its way to the skin. This is when the blisters start to become visible, grouping around the nerve that is affected. Usually, this is around the stomach, waist, and lower back. This is a very painful part of the overall progression of the disease.
Who Can Get Shingles?
Anyone who has had chickenpox may also develop shingles later on in life. Fortunately, it is actually quite rare for the virus to reactivate and most people live with it without ever suffering any effects. Usually, if it does reactivate, it is in people over the age of 50 whose immune system has been weakened. For instance, people who receive cancer treatment are more likely to develop it, including those who are HIV positive. Indeed, it is quite common for those with HIV to realize that their immune system is in danger once they develop shingles.
The older you get, the bigger your chance of developing shingles. However, it has little to no impact on the question ‘how long does shingles last?’. It seems, therefore, that it all varies on how much of the virus reactivates, where it is, how strong your immune system is, and so on. It can also occur in children, which is very rare. If it does, it tends to be minor and mild and it doesn’t last long.
While people who have the disease mainly want to know how long does shingles last, it is far more important to be aware of the potential complications. The most serious complications include:
1. Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), which leads to long term, chronic pain in the skin where the shingles blisters were located. Once the blisters are gone and the rash has healed, the pain can remain. In some people, this can last as long as several years, although months is more common. It is more likely to occur in elderly people and it can have a significant impact on the patient’s quality of life.
2. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus, which happens when the shingles affects the eyes. It can lead to vision problems, including vision loss, which may be permanent.