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What Are the Causes of a Shingles Outbreak? Find Out Here

What Are the Causes of a Shingles Outbreak? Find Out Here

Shingles is a type of disease that affects a person’s nerves and skin. In some cases, the pain can become so unbearable to the point that clothes become difficult to wear. Knowing the causes of a shingles outbreak is important when it comes to preventing this disease.

What are shingles? What are causes of a shingles outbreak?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus. If the virus sounds familiar, it is because this virus is also responsible for chickenpox.

Once a person has recovered from chickenpox, the virus lays dormant in the nerves of their body for years. In most cases, the virus is inactive, and doesn’t cause a shingles outbreak. However, there are some cases wherein the virus is reactivated and, instead of having chickenpox again, the person gets shingles. This means that the only people who can get shingles are those who have recovered from chickenpox.

causes of a shingles outbreak

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The symptoms of shingles can vary from case to case. Some experience only mild symptoms, while others exhibit severe symptoms that can last for months. Here are some of the possible symptoms:

Mild symptoms:

  • Burning, tickling, or itchy sensation on skin
  • Blisters
  • Skin that is sensitive to touch
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache

Severe symptoms:

  • Severe pain that lasts for months even when the typical rashes have resolved.
  • Loss of vision when the shingles rash occurs around the eyes
  • Difficulty hearing

One complication that arises from less than 4 percent of shingles cases is known as post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN. Neuralgia refers to a type of pain that occurs when a nerve gets damage. In the case of PHN, it’s because of the shingles outbreak. This can cause very intense pain, and touching cloth or even the softest breeze can trigger this.

It can sometimes last for months or years, or be permanently (this is extremely rare). Sometimes, PHN is so debilitating that a person finds it almost impossible to complete daily activities and tasks.

What are the causes of a shingles outbreak?

While we do know that the herpes zoster virus causes shingles, we don’t know for sure what causes its reactivation in the body. However, researchers believe that the following might have something to do with it. These may be causes of a shingles outbreak:

  • As you grow older, your risk increases because your body has a harder time fighting infections.
  • Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV, cancer, and cancer treatments.
  • Stress is also believed to be one of the causes of a shingles outbreak.


Only people who have previously gotten chickenpox and recovered may develop shingles. While a person cannot get shingles from someone else with shingles, the virus can spread from a person with shingles, to someone who has never had chickenpox, or has not been vaccinated against chickenpox. The person who was exposed may then develop chickenpox, but not shingles.

The virus may spread when fluid from an infected person’s blisters comes into contact with another person. In some cases, the virus may also mix into the air and be inhaled by someone else.

If you have not had chicken pox, it would be best not to be in close contact with anyone with active shingles. Pregnant individuals who have been exposed to someone with active shingles and have not had chicken pox before must contact their doctor right away.

Atopic dermatitis: Definition, Causes, Remedies

Causes of a shingles outbreak: Risk factors

Here are some of the possible risk factors for shingles:

  • Old age
  • Recovering from chickenpox
  • Undergoing cancer treatment
  • Having a weak immune system
  • Taking certain medications that suppress the immune system, such as steroids

What can you do about a shingles outbreak?

After recognizing the causes of a shingles outbreak, it is important to know how to prevent it.

Preventing shingles can be difficult, especially if you have had chickenpox before. However, there is a vaccine that older adults can take to lower their chances of developing shingles. These vaccines are usually given for adults aged 50 and up, regardless of prior history of shingles.

Here are some of the things that you can do to treat shingles:

  • Be sure to get enough rest. This will help your body fight off the infection.
  • You can also get prescription medication to manage symptoms and speed up recovery. While most patients will recover without treatment, it is best to consult your local health care provider as soon as possible.
  • Eating healthy foods is also important, as this can help strengthen your immune system.
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages, as they can slow down your recovery.
  • Avoid stress triggers as best you can. Stress can aggravate the symptoms of shingles.
  • If you’re experiencing severe pain from shingles, ask your doctor about over-the-counter medication.
  • Use calamine lotion to soothe the itching.
  • As much as possible, avoid scratching your blisters.
  • Wear cool and loose-fitting clothing so that you’re always comfortable.
  • Remember to keep other household members safe especially if they are older, pregnant or immunocompromised. Keep all fresh blisters covered and talk with your health care provider if self isolation is necessary.

Key takeaway

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. What are the causes of a shingles outbreak? After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus may remain dormant in their body for years. In some cases, the virus reactivates as shingles. Shingles causes blisters, sensitive skin, and fever. Vaccination may protect you from shingles.

Learn more about Other Viral Infections here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Shingles (herpes zoster), https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/shingles/fact_sheet.htm, Accessed October 29, 2020

Shingles | Transmission – How Spreads | Herpes Zoster | CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/transmission.html, Accessed October 29, 2020

Shingles | National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles, Accessed October 29, 2020

Herpes Zoster – Infectious Diseases – MSD Manual Professional Edition, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/herpesviruses/herpes-zoster, Accessed October 29, 2020

Shingles – NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/shingles/, Accessed October 29, 2020

Shingles – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353054, Accessed October 29, 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 14
Medically reviewed by Erika Joanna Villanueva Caperonce, M.D.