Most people who develop shingles, also known as herpes zoster, only experience it once in their lifetime. However, it is possible to get shingles more than once.

The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes shingles and chickenpox. A person can only develop shingles if they have had chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in their body.

Stress, some medications, and certain health conditions can reactivate the virus and trigger the symptoms of shingles. When shingles occurs more than once, doctors refer to it as recurrent shingles.

Recurrent shingles is more common among people with a compromised immune system.

In this article, we explain why some people may get shingles more than once. We also discuss the treatment and prevention options.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that about 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles at some point during their lifetime. Researchers consider recurrent shingles to be a rare occurrence, but they note that the rates could be increasing.

The main symptom of shingles is a stripe-like rash across the right or left side of the body and, sometimes, the face.

When a person first contracts VZV, they develop chickenpox, not shingles. Shingles only presents when the virus reactivates after lying dormant in nerve cells.

The virus transmits through open blisters on the rash. The fluid in the blisters contains the virus, so if a blister dries out and scabs over, it is unlikely that the virus will transmit to anyone else. However, a person should still be careful, especially if they apply a cream to the individual’s sores.

Various factors that impair the immune system in some way can increase a person’s risk of recurrent shingles.

These risk factors include:

  • reexposure to VZV
  • medication that suppresses the immune system, such as chemotherapy, corticosteroids, or biologics
  • underlying health conditions
  • stress
  • cancer, particularly leukemia and lymphoma
  • HIV

The immune system becomes less effective with age, so individuals over the age of 50 years may experience more complications from shingles.

Shingles presents as a rash in a single stripe of clusters of blisters. It appears on the left or right side of the body and usually wraps around the back and torso, tending not to cross the center of the body. People with a weakened immune system may find that the rash covers a greater area.

A person may feel tingling, itching, or pain in their skin for several days before the rash emerges.

The CDC notes that the blisters typically scab over within 7–10 days, with the rash clearing in 2–4 weeks.

If the rash is on the face and near an eye, a person could be at risk of impaired vision and even sight loss. This complication is more common in people with a weakened immune system. A person should contact a doctor for advice if they have a rash near their eyes.

Blisters on the tip of the nose indicate that the virus is affecting the eyes. In these cases, a doctor will need to check the cornea for infection, which could lead to permanent clouding of this part of the eye.

Other possible symptoms of shingles include:

People should speak with a doctor as soon as they notice shingles symptoms, as early treatment can reduce the healing time.

Doctors treat shingles with antiviral medications, such as:

  • acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • famciclovir (Famvir)

Pain is a common symptom of shingles. A person can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to alleviate pain, or a doctor may prescribe a more potent pain reliever if the pain is severe.

A person can try applying calamine lotion and having an oatmeal bath to soothe the rash and blisters. People who experience sensations of burning, tingling, or itching may find relief from applying a wet flannel to the affected areas.

A person should keep the rash as clean and dry as possible to prevent a secondary bacterial infection. Covering the rash with a nonstick dressing can further protect the sores from bacteria.

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) states that the Shingrix vaccine is 90% effective in preventing shingles from developing. Currently, healthcare professionals give this vaccine to people aged 50 years and older.

The HHS explains that a person needs two doses of the vaccine with a gap of 2–6 months between them.

People still need the Shingrix vaccine if they:

  • have had shingles before
  • have received a Zostavax vaccine
  • are unsure whether they have had chickenpox

As well as receiving the vaccine, a person should aim to keep their immune system as strong as possible by eating a nutritious, balanced diet and staying active.

Doctors may not recommend the shingles vaccine for people with a severely compromised immune system.

The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is long-term nerve pain. A person with PHN may feel pain in the area of the shingles rash for months or years after it goes away.

The older a person is when they develop shingles, the higher the risk of PHN. People younger than 40 years are unlikely to experience PHN.

Other shingles complications include:

Recurrent shingles may be a sign that a person has an underlying health condition that is weakening their immune system.

Some chronic conditions that researchers associate with recurrent shingles include:

A person should speak with a doctor if they notice shingles symptoms. The first symptom of shingles is usually painful and tingling skin, which can sometimes also be itchy. Other early symptoms include fever and an upset stomach.

If the pain is severe or OTC pain relievers are not working, a person should talk with their doctor about taking prescription pain relievers.

If the rash spreads to the face and is near the eyes, a person should ask a doctor for advice. Shingles around the eyes could lead to severe complications, including vision loss.

The following are frequently asked questions about shingles.

Why do I keep getting shingles in the same place?

A person is likely to develop shingles in the same place as it most commonly develops on the left or right side of the body, in a single stripe. It can also develop on one side of the face.

Is it common to get shingles on your buttocks?

Shingles most commonly appears on the trunk, but it can develop on the buttocks.

Learn more about shingles on the buttocks.

How do you get rid of recurring shingles?

Although it is possible to develop shingles more than once, it is rare. If a person is experiencing recurrent shingles, they should speak with a doctor. Treatment for recurrent shingles is the same as treating shingles for the first time.

What triggers shingles outbreaks?

Shingles develops when the herpes zoster virus reactivates. This can happen when a person’s immune system is lowered.

Recurrent shingles occurs when a person repeatedly develops shingles. Risk factors for recurrent shingles include stress, immunosuppressant medications, and HIV.

Doctors recommend that people aged 50 years and over get two doses of the Shingrix vaccine to help prevent shingles. The first-line treatment for shingles is an antiviral medication. People can soothe their shingles symptoms at home by taking OTC pain relievers and applying calamine lotion to their skin.

It is important to keep the rash and blisters clean and dry to prevent infection and transmission. After the blisters scab over, shingles is no longer contagious.

If a person repeatedly develops shingles, they may have an underlying health condition affecting their immune system.