Difference Between Chickenpox And Shingles

By: | Updated: Aug-9, 2022
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Unbeknownst to some, the same virus that causes chickenpox can also cause shingles; however, just because the same virus causes them doesn’t mean that they are the same. The odds are that everyone reading this article has encountered chickenpox at some point since it usually affects small children under the age of ten.

However, shingles are less common, as they reactivate the virus long after chickenpox has disappeared. Even after an individual has recovered from the chickenpox illness, the virus will stay in their body, which can react later in life and cause the development of shingles. Shingles can be passed to another person even if they’ve never had chickenpox before or been inoculated against it.

Shingles can cause an individual to experience similar symptoms as chickenpox. Still, instead of appearing all over the body, a shingles rash usually appears as a cluster of red blotches that develop into itchy blisters on one side of your body. Yet to those that have never encountered shingles before, knowing the differences can be challenging – keep reading as we take a more in-depth look at the causes, treatment and differences between chickenpox and shingles below.

Difference Between Chickenpox And Shingles

What Causes The Virus?

Although caused by the varicella-zoster virus, chickenpox and shingles develop differently. Chickenpox is a highly contagious illness that can be transmitted between people easily, yet shingles can only be transferred to another if they’ve had chickenpox earlier in life. Instead, if an individual encounters the fluid from your shingles rash, they will develop chickenpox instead of shingles.

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Although the cause of the virus is widely speculated, it is often thought that people will develop it if they suffer from any of the following:

  • A weakened immune system.
  • The use of immunosuppressant medications like the one’s chemotherapy will expose you to anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Contracting diseases that damage/weaken your immune system like HIV.
  • Contracting autoimmune diseases like lupus or Crohn’s disease which are treated with immune-suppressing drugs.
  • Having had a procedure such as a kidney or bone-marrow transplant, which may require taking immunosuppressants afterwards.

If you’d like to know more about what causes the varicella-zoster virus, or if you have any other concerns, we recommend discussing them in-depth with your doctor or reading about the virus using medical leaflets about shingles. Only a knowledgeable health professional can give accurate advice and point you in the right direction should you need it.

How Is The Virus Treated?

The best way to treat the varicella-zoster virus is by getting vaccinated against it; usually, you will receive this as a child in two doses. One when you are between twelve to fifteen months old, and another when you are in-between the ages of four to six. According to studies, the vaccine is 98% effective at preventing any type of varicella, yet there are some treatments you can carry out at home to alleviate your symptoms.

One of the unique ways of soothing the varicella-zoster virus is by soaking in the bath with the addition of baking soda, uncooked oatmeal, or colloidal oatmeal, which is known for helping the skin and making it less itchy. It would help if you also tried to keep your nails cut short to prevent yourself from accidentally catching one of the scabs, as this could transmit the illness to others and cause skin infections. If you accidentally scratch your rash, it is recommended to wash your hands immediately afterwards.

On the other hand, if it is shingles that you are suffering, it is recommended to take paracetamol to ease the pain, keep the blisters clean and dry, wear loose-fitting clothing, and use a cold compress. This could be like a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel or an ice pack to reduce the discomfort you may feel.

What Is The Difference Between Chickenpox And Shingles?

Despite both being caused by the varicella-zoster virus, chickenpox and shingles are very different in appearance and the symptoms you’ll experience. The most notable difference between the two is the appearance of the rash you’ll develop because of the illness; typically, a chickenpox rash is characterised by itchy spots that can appear all over the body, even inside the mouth!

It will first develop as red, itchy spots before turning into blisters, then scabs. In contrast, a shingles rash is a painful, blotchy rash that mainly affects one side of your body; unlike chickenpox, it is also known for affecting the eyes. Symptoms can differ between the two illnesses, but generally, they are pretty similar – some of the most common symptoms of the two are as follows:

  • A red, blotchy rash that can cause irritation and develop into fluid-filled blisters.
  • A tingling or burning sensation in an area of skin.
  • A headache or symptoms of feeling generally unwell such as chills, fever, upset stomach, headache etc.
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