Shingles in Young Adults: What to Know

You should know what to look out for if you're young but at risk for shingles.

If you've ever had chickenpox, then the virus that causes shingles (the varicella-zoster virus) is present in your body and is most likely inactive. However, at some point in the future, it could resurface and travel from your nerves to your skin, resulting in a painful rash.

It's not uncommon for individuals to get shingles. Nearly one in three people in the U.S. will get shingles during their lifetime per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, shingles have long been thought of as an infection that mainly affects older adults, specifically those between the ages of 60 and 80 but at least individuals aged 50 or older.

However, researchers of a 2016 Clinical Infectious Diseases study found that the prevalence of shingles among Americans younger than 50 more than quadrupled from the late 1940s to the early 2000s. The CDC also says that anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, even as a young adult.

Below are photos from young adults with shingles who shared their experiences online, hoping to warn people about what the condition looks like and how it can manifest.

What Symptoms Have Shown up in Young Adults With Shingles?

A news anchor from Florida shared their experience with shingles to raise awareness among younger people that they might also be at risk. According to News4Jax, Scott Johnson, who was in their early 40s, developed an excruciatingly painful case just in October 2018.

Johnson said they first noticed a hard, painful welt on the back of their neck. But soon it became an unbearable rash, and the symptoms then spread to their face.

shingles-nbc-news

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, shingles symptoms go beyond having a painful rash, which can appear after only one day of symptoms. The area where shingles appear may be sensitive, tingling, or itchy, and any rashes may turn into blisters over the course of seven to 10 days.

Shingles usually last and clear up between three to five weeks per the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Still, the exact timing concerning the first appearance of shingles is generally unpredictable.

For @pzarks, they woke up to their case of shingles. Their Instagram post said that television commercials always showed shingles affecting older adults. "It can happen to anyone at any time," they said.

What Risk Factors Did Young Adults Associate With Shingles?

Scientists aren't sure why some people go on to develop shingles and others don't. However, people with weakened immune systems, like those with HIV or lupus, are more likely to get a shingles rash. Also, a 2021 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that there was a relationship between high levels of reported psychological stress and an increased risk of shingles. Thus, stress has the potential to be another risk factor for developing shingles.

Stress, according to MedlinePlus, is the way your body reacts to things that are considered challenging or demanding. Stress can be positive or negative, depending on factors such as what your stressors are or how long you've been enduring the stress. However, too much stress can also weaken your immune system and create an opportunity for shingles to show up.

@fromweightstoplaydates posted before and after photos of when they experienced shingles and Bell's palsy on their face at 32 years old. "What doctors couldn't see was the huge amount of stress I was experiencing," the poster said.

@catherine.ryan16 also noted stress as a factor in their shingles outbreak. They posted a photo of the rash extending up their side and across their abdomen.

What Else to Know About Shingles

It's important to note that you can transmit the shingles virus to someone else who has not had chickenpox, but the person will develop chickenpox and not shingles, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). It is also possible to experience shingles more than once.

The CDC also mentions that there can be complications from shingles, with long-term nerve pain (known as postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN) being the complication most people will experience. However, PHN will only affect 10 to 18% of people who have developed shingles—and it rarely affects those who are younger than 40, the CDC says.

Also, shingles that affect the areas of the eye or the eye itself may lead to eye problems such as blindness. The photo that @cherishlombard shared showed their severely swollen eye, which was captioned as the "worst pain ever."

Other rare complications of shingles could be pneumonia, hearing issues, brain inflammation, or death, per the CDC.

When sharing a photo of the shingles rash covering one-half of their face, @denisebullard_sharkey said to seek medical care as soon as possible, which John Hopkins Medicine also recommends. "If you wait too long you could end up with a severe case like mine," the Instagram poster said.

For shingles, pain relief would be the main focus of treatment according to John Hopkins Medicine. Several treatment options are available and may be helpful for symptom relief, which could include:

  • Anti-itch creams or lotions
  • Antiviral medications
  • Steroids
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Home remedies (e.g., cool compresses)
  • Antidepressants

Further, the treatments that your healthcare provider recommends will depend on factors such as your age, your health status, and the length of time that you've had the shingles.

John Hopkins Medicine also says that a shingles cure does not exist, though there is a shingles vaccine called Shingrix that is available for preventing a shingles outbreak. However, as of May 2022, the CDC recommends the vaccine for adults with weakened immune systems aged 19 or older, but in general, Shingrix has only been approved as a preventative measure for those aged 50 years and older.

Ultimately, you may not expect to experience shingles at a young age—but being informed about the condition can help you deal with it if it occurs.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles