• What Is Herpes Zoster (Shingles)?

    Reviewed by: Elizabeth Yeu MD
    Mar. 01, 2016

    The virus varicella zoster causes two distinct diseases. The primary infection causes chicken pox, a generally harmless childhood illness. After chicken pox ends, the virus remains in the body, where it can remain inactive (dormant) for decades. As a result of age, illness or medical treatments, the virus can become reactivated. This second encounter is called herpes zoster, or more commonly, shingles, and is characterized by a painful rash.

    Unlike chicken pox, shingles is usually quite painful. It is important to see an ophthalmologist when herpes zoster occurs on the face, because the virus can invade the eye. In about 10 to 25 percent of shingles patients, the infection can affect the nerves directly in the eyeball, causing serious eye problems.

    Herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine

    A vaccine is available to prevent herpes zoster. The vaccine has been shown to be effective in either preventing shingles from occurring or lessening the symptoms should it develop.

    Image Reproduced, with permission, from Sutphin JE, Basic and Clinical Science Course Section 8: External Disease and Cornea, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2006-2007.