Why Do Young Adults Develop Shingles?

What is Shingles?

Shingles is a condition in which the varicella virus, a virus known to cause chickenpox, gets reactivated. It causes painful rashes. Shingles occurs most often in people who have had chickenpox. Also, those who have received the chickenpox vaccine develop it.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke, people above the age of 50 years develop shingles.(1)

The incidence of shingles is going up in young adults as well. A study shows the rate of shingles is increasing in all age groups.(2)

Shingles are not a life-threatening condition but can be very painful. Early treatment can shorten the chances of complications. The most common complication is post-herpetic neuralgia that causes shingles pain even a long time after the blisters have cleared.

Why Do Young Adults Develop Shingles?

Shingles can develop in anyone who has suffered from chickenpox, as after the recovery the virus (Varicella zoster virus-VZV) remains in a dormant state in the nerve cells. The virus gets triggered to reactivate. It then replicates and begins to move along the affected nerves. When it reaches the skin, shingles rash develops.

The cause of reactivation of the virus is unknown but may be associated with a weakened immune system. The immune system gets weakened with age. In young adults, it may get compromised due to chronic illness and stress.

The risk of shingles rises in people with a weakened immune system.

Even in those vaccinated for chickenpox, there is a possibility to develop shingles, but the risk is lower.

A study done in 2019 found that the incidence of shingles was lower in those children who had received vaccines.(3)

Symptoms of Shingles in Young Adults

Younger people who have shingles do not develop any major symptoms. The rashes and pains would not be as severe as in older adults. Many adults who have shingles do not develop it again.

The signs and symptoms of shingles include:

  • Pain, numbness, burning, and tingling
  • Sensitivity on touch
  • Red rash that arises mostly a few days after the pain
  • Itching
  • Fluid-filled blisters

Some people also experience:

The pain in shingles can be intense for some. Depending on the location of pain, it is sometimes mistaken for some other problem i.e. of heart, lungs, or kidney. Some people develop shingles pain even if there is no rash.

Shingle rashes mostly develop as a stripe of blisters that are either on the left or right side of the torso.

It is important to speak with a doctor if shingles are suspected. There are antiviral medications that can reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration.

How to Prevent Shingles in Young Adults?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent shingles even in those who have had it in the past.

The shingle vaccine, known as Shingrix, consists of 2 doses that are spaced out between 2-6 months. According to the FDA, it is indicated to be used on adults above 50 years of age.(4)

Those younger than 50 years should speak to their doctor about getting Shingrix. Shingles are mild and rare in young adults. Therefore, it is better to treat the condition instead of preparing the body for something that has lower chances of occurring.

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