What to know about shingles in teens

Many people experience chickenpox as a child. This virus, caused by the varicella zoster virus, causes painful blisters and sores over a person’s body. About one in 1 million people will experience another outbreak in their teenagers – which is why shingles in teens isn’t unheard of.

“Shingles” is another strand of the herpes virus that can affect the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. It’s not uncommon for someone undergoing a high stress level, such as a teenager in puberty, to experience a bout with this virus outbreak.

Chickenpox Vaccine & Other Herpes Viruses

The virus that causes chickenpox and shingles is related to the virus that causes oral herpes (aka: cold sores) and genital herpes. If your teenager has had either oral or genital herpes, studies show they may be at an increased risk for a shingles outbreak, however, it’s not necessary to have one type in order to have other types.

If your child receives the chickenpox vaccine, he or she significantly decreases their chances of catching and suffering chickenpox or shingles in teens years or later in life. Experiencing chickenpox as an adult is incredibly uncomfortable and can be deadly.

Chickenpox shingles blisters baby teens
Chickenpox and shingles have distinguishable blisters.

What causes shingles in teens

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes an outbreak of a dormant virus. After a person experiences chickenpox as a child, the virus lies dormant within the nervous system and often never flares up again. However, if it does flare up, there is no known reason why. It is thought that high levels of physical stress, including endocrine shifts and immune system reactions, can trigger a flare up.

People with compromised immune systems are more likely to contract and suffer from shingles. So if your teenager has had heart problems, struggles with diabetes or chronic illness, these may be contributing factors that weaken the immune protection against the herpes virus.

Symptoms of shingles in teens

Shingles is identified by its skin rash. The skin becomes irritated in a particular area on the chest, ribs or back, and grows red and swollen. Small, pus-filled blisters will begin to rise on the skin, and as they pop, they crust and scab over. Often, these blisters will contain blood in addition to pus, and they can be quite itchy and painful.

Often, shingles cases will run their course and heal within one month of the outbreak, however early detection and treatment can speed the course of recovery. While anti-viral medications cannot completely prevent a breakout, they may be crucial in helping speed recovery of shingles in teens.

Long-term effects

If your teenager experiences a bout with shingles, don’t despair. There are not severe long-term effects is treated properly. However, there are a few things you’ll want to be aware of, in order to help aid your teen in their recovery.

Improper treatment of popped and scabbed blisters can lead to infection, which can cause complications including long-term scarring. Be sure to help keep all wounds cleaned and maintained, and to follow all care recommended by your physician.

If an outbreak occurs near the person’s eye, it can cause vision loss. Outbreaks on the face can result in complications in breathing or even brain function. Be sure to bring any outbreaks on the face to your doctor’s attention right away.

Some people who experience shingles outbreaks will develop long-term chronic pain associated with the nerve damage from the shingles. This is called postherapetic neuralgia. Even a light touch can cause extreme pain. This condition should always be examined and managed by a doctor.

herpes virus causes shingles in teens
Herpes virus causes shingles in teens and adults.

Recurring Outbreaks of Shingles in Teens          

It’s not terribly common, but it’s not unheard of either, that someone who experiences shingles in their teens will experience another outbreak of it (or even more than one) later in life. If you’re a teenager who has experienced a battle with this virus, be prepared. You may need to read up on this disease and how to treat it, specific to the type you have. Talk to your doctor about having the virus fully analyzed and your medical records updated with all information, so should you ever have another outbreak of shingles, you and your doctors will be more prepared than you were when you had shingles in your teens.