University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Patricia Winokur, MD
Associate Professor of Internal Medicine
First Published: 2003
Last Revised: August 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Shingles is probably not on David Letterman's Top 10 favorite list. He was absent from his late-night talk show for several weeks recovering from shingles. Letterman is not unique. Each year more than one million Americans are afflicted with shingles.
If you've ever had chicken pox, you may suffer from shingles or herpes zoster. "Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus that remains in the nerve roots of all people who have ever had chicken pox," says Patricia Winokur, MD, UI Health Care infectious diseases specialist. "It may remain dormant for many years, only to rear its ugly head to cause the itchy and painful rash associated with shingles."
The first symptom of shingles is a burning pain, tingling, numbness, or itching. Symptoms are generally limited to a small area of the body--a small strip of skin on one side of the chest, abdomen, or face where groups of blisters have formed. The pain can be quite severe. Symptoms generally last two to three weeks and cause no long-term problems in most patients. However, 25 to 50 percent of people over age 50 can have a debilitating pain that can last more than one month.
"Anyone with shingles and eye irritation or lesions around the eyes should seek immediate medical care," says Winokur, "since shingles can lead to severe eye disease."