NHS Service

Shingles vs. Chickenpox: What’s the Difference?

Shingles vs. Chickenpox What’s the Difference

Chickenpox and shingles are both uncomfortable diseases that cause painful and itchy rashes on the skin. Whilst both conditions are caused by the same virus, they are not the same illness.

What is Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s usually associated with children, but you can catch it at any age. Once you have had chickenpox it’s unlikely that you will get it again, especially if you caught it as a child.

Symptoms can start anywhere from 1-3 weeks after contracting the virus. They include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • A red and itchy rash that starts on the chest and face before spreading and turning into blisters
  • The blisters will ooze fluid then crust over before healing

In children, the symptoms are extremely uncomfortable but are not usually serious. However, in adults, pregnant women, and the vulnerable, chickenpox can become more severe. In these groups, symptoms can include dehydration, toxic shock syndrome, sepsis, and pneumonia. There is no cure for chickenpox.

What is Shingles?
Shingles is a condition that affects people who previously had chickenpox. The varicella virus can stay dormant in your system for years or even decades before reactivating as shingles. No one knows what causes this reactivation, but it is thought that high stress levels are linked. 

The first symptom of shingles is a tingling or painful feeling on your skin. A few days later, a red rash will appear, usually on the stomach or chest and only on one side of the body. The rash will look blotchy before it blisters and oozes. You may also experience:

  • Sensitivity to light and touch
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Burning, itchiness, or numbness

Shingles isn’t considered dangerous, but it can be very painful and there is no cure. In some, it can cause long-term complications like postherpetic neuralgia which mimics shingles pain and can last long after your blisters have healed.

Thankfully, there are safe and proven vaccines for both chickenpox and shingles. Chickenpox vaccination is advised for children and adults who have not had the disease. The shingles vaccine is advised for people over the age of 50, even if you have had shingles before.

The shingles and chickenpox vaccines are both available from Touchwood Pharmacy. Protect your family from these preventable conditions by booking your appointment online or over the phone.