Most people know that suffering through shingles is no picnic. But how much do we actually know about this virus? What causes it and how is it treated? Can you go outside with shingles? And is there a link between shingles and sun exposure?

What is shingles?

Shingles is similar in nature to chickenpox. It’s caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox and usually occurs in adulthood. The symptoms of shingles are comparable to chickenpox and involves a painful rash on the skin. The pain and tingling of the rash may also continue for several weeks after the rash itself has cleared. (i)

Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. It is a contagious virus that can be transferred to anyone who has direct contact with the skin of an infected person. In individuals who have not been immunised, this causes chickenpox whilst for those who are immunosuppressed develop shingles.

Shingles and sun exposure

What exactly triggers shingles is still debated by medical professionals. Most of them agree however that any kind of skin trauma puts the immune system in a vulnerable state and is therefore a potential cause for an outbreak. This of course includes sunburn. (ii) The damage and blistering that occurs from severe sunburn can therefore lead to shingles. It can also be difficult to detect shingles early when experiencing sunburn.

If you are severely sunburned or are experiencing blistering, rashes, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or severe pain, you should seek immediate hospital treatment. (iii)

How is shingles treated?

When caught early, antiviral drugs such as Acyclovir can be used to treat shingles fairly quickly. Your doctor will also be able to advise you on how to minimise your discomfort whilst displaying symptoms. (i)

Should I go in the sun with shingles

Sunbathing or a tanning bed and shingles is not a comfortable combination. Due to the blistering rash that occurs with a shingles outbreak, your skin is exposed and extremely sensitive. Unnecessary sun exposure may aggravate the rash. Sunbathing and shingles is therefore not the best idea. Try to stay cool indoors to minimise discomfort. (iv)

Can you go outside with shingles?

If you must go outside whilst experiencing shingles, make sure you protect your skin with adequate, long sleeved clothing. You can also speak to your doctor or dermatologist about how to use sunscreen with shingles.

Concerned about shingles?

If you are concerned that you have developed shingles, contact your General Practitioner on the phone for advice.