Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness. These would start a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination. If you have a severe allergic reaction or other emergency that can’t wait, call 9-1-1 or get the person to the nearest hospital. Otherwise, call your doctor.
This is not the time to watch your symptoms develop and wait for the rash to run its course. Although most cases of shingles resolve in two to six weeks, the risk of longer-term complications rises with age, weakened immunity, and delay or absence of treatment. If you think you have shingles, it’s important to get diagnosed right away. You can see a general practitioner, family medicine physician, internist, dermatologist, or neurologist for an evaluation.
There is no waiting period in such a situation. Zoster vaccine can be given right away or at any time to any person for whom the vaccine is recommended. Shingles is not caused by exposure to another person with shingles. People with shingles can only possibly cause a susceptible person to develop varicella (chickenpox), not zoster.
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The issue with shingles is that it often mimics other conditions—like poison ivy or scabies—with similar uncomfortable symptoms. However there are a few telling signs that give shingles away, including…
Shingrix should be given in two doses between two and six months apart to adults who are at least 50 years old, the CDC says. The older vaccine, Zostavax, can still be given to adults who are 60 or older, but Shingrix is preferred, according to the agency.
^ Yih WK, Brooks DR, Lett SM, Jumaan AO, Zhang Z, Clements KM, Seward JF (2005). “The incidence of varicella and herpes zoster in Massachusetts as measured by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) during a period of increasing varicella vaccine coverage, 1998–2003”. BMC Public Health. 5: 68. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-5-68. PMC 1177968 . PMID 15960856.
^ a b c d Gatti A, Pica F, Boccia MT, De Antoni F, Sabato AF, Volpi A (2010). “No evidence of family history as a risk factor for herpes zoster in patients with post-herpetic neuralgia”. J. Med. Virol. 82 (6): 1007–11. doi:10.1002/jmv.21748. PMID 20419815.
So if you’ve had chickenpox in the past, you won’t catch shingles from someone else. Just being near someone with shingles won’t trigger your own body to reactive the the virus. But if you haven’t had chickenpox or been fully vaccinated against it, you could contract the varicella zoster virus from someone with shingles and end up with chickenpox, Dr. Adalja explains. And that, in turn, leaves you open to getting shingles down the road.
“The shingle attack itself is severe and painful to most people, and then there’s the possibility that the skin lesions clear up but nerve pain continues,” said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “That can be really chronic, unremitting and difficult to treat.”
Topical corticosteroids are sometimes used to decrease inflammation and pain, but these should be used only under the supervision of a health care professional since in some patients, corticosteroids may make the condition worse.
A doctor can usually diagnose shingles just by looking at the rash. If you have shingles symptoms, see your health care provider even if you think you’ve never had chickenpox. Many childhood cases of chickenpox are mild enough to go unnoticed, but the virus can still linger and reactivate. To prevent complications, it’s important to start treatment as soon as shingles appears.
Chest pain is scary but it’s not always a symptom of a heart attack. “Prior to the appearance of vesicles on the chest, patients may experience sharp or burning pain,” says Sylvia Morris, MD, a board-certified internist in Atlanta. According to Dr. Morris, chest pain that feels itchy and painful to the touch could be an early sign of shingles. (Here’s everything you need to know about a shingles diagnosis.)
^ Paryani SG, Arvin AM (1986). “Intrauterine infection with varicella-zoster virus after maternal varicella”. The New England Journal of Medicine. 314 (24): 1542–46. doi:10.1056/NEJM198606123142403. PMID 3012334.
In very rare cases, people have developed a severe allergic reaction to the shingles vaccine. This reaction is called anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis include swelling of the face (including the mouth and eyes), hives, warmth or redness of the skin, trouble breathing, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, or a slow pulse. If you have any of these symptoms after getting the shingles vaccine, seek medical help right away. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.
Psychological and emotional stressors are also thought to possibly contribute to the development of shingles, perhaps from the detrimental effects of stress on the immune system and the person’s health.