According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 3 people in the US will develop shingles in their lifetime, with an estimated 1 million being diagnosed with shingles each year. While shingles usually appears around the face, waist, chest, stomach, or back, you can also get it on your butt. This article covers everything you should know about shingles on the buttocks.¹
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Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that causes a painful rash on the skin. Because it has the word 'herpes' in the name, you might think that shingles is related to cold sores or genital herpes, but this isn't the case. Although shingles belongs to the herpes family, it's a different virus from the one that causes genital herpes or cold sores (herpes simplex virus).
Shingles on the buttocks occurs when the dormant chickenpox virus, varicella-zoster virus (VZV), is reactivated in your nerve tissue. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus moves to your nerve roots, where it can stay dormant for years. When reactivated, VSV causes shingles instead of chickenpox.
What causes the virus to reactivate remains unknown, but it occurs more in people with weakened or suppressed immune systems.
Shingles symptoms appear in stages, and most shingles cases last from 3–5 weeks. The first signs you may be getting shingles on your butt are numbness, skin sensitivity, itching on your butt, or tingling, burning, or stabbing pain in your buttocks. You may also have symptoms of a viral infection, such as a headache, fever, chills, fatigue, or nausea.
After 1–5 days, a rash appears on your buttock, and soon after, fluid-filled blisters form that eventually ooze.
Some blisters may merge, resulting in an area that looks like a burn, while others remain in a cluster in a band-like fashion. The rash can appear red, dark pink, dark brown, or purplish, depending on your skin tone. The blisters will eventually dry out and crust over, forming scabs, which will fall off after 2–3 weeks.
Shingles usually only affect one side of your body, so you may have a rash on one buttock but not the other. This happens because shingles usually follows a dermatome, a branch of sensory nerves stemming from a single spinal nerve where the VZV has been dormant.
Common symptoms of shingles include:
Tingling, burning, or shooting pain
Sensitivity to touch
Skin that looks burned
After experiencing stinging, tingling, or burning pain, slightly reddish patches of skin with small bumps will develop in a cluster on the buttocks. These patches quickly grow into small groupings of blisters, before drying and crusting. The blisters distinctly appear in a single stripe on one side of the body (usually on one buttock).
While there's no cure for shingles, treatment can help limit the pain and clear blisters faster. Antiviral medications like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir can help reduce the length and severity of shingles. But they're most effective when taken within three days of the rash appearing.
These medications can also reduce the risk of possible complications of shingles, such as postherpetic neuralgia, long-lasting nerve pain common in elderly patients.
Tylenol and Advil can help with mild pain. But if you have severe pain, your doctor may prescribe anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants, topical numbing treatments like lidocaine, numbing medicines, and medication that reduces inflammation, such as corticosteroids.
At-home care is also important when treating shingles. Here are some things you can do at home to feel more comfortable:
Apply a cold compress to the affected area to help blisters dry faster and relieve pain.
Keep the rash clean and dry to avoid secondary bacterial infection.
Try to relax and keep your stress to a minimum, as stress can worsen the pain.
Avoid antibiotic cream as this slows healing.
Keep the rash covered and wash your hands often to reduce the risk of giving someone chickenpox.
Wear loose-fitting clothing made of cotton or linen to reduce discomfort.
Take walks daily and eat healthy foods to minimize stress and maintain good nutrition.
No, shingles isn’t contagious. However, if you've never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, you can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles through contact with an open blister.
Anyone who's had chickenpox can get shingles. Although shingles aren't common in children, kids whose mothers had chickenpox late in pregnancy and those who had chickenpox before they celebrated their first birthday are at risk of developing pediatric shingles. Generally, the risk of developing shingles increases with age, as most people get shingles in their 50s or later.
Other factors that increase the risk of developing shingles include:
Weakened immune system due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancer (especially leukemia and lymphoma), or diabetes
Medication such as long-term steroids or immunosuppressants
Major physical injury
Recipients of solid organ or bone marrow transplants
Poor nutrition and health
The best way to prevent shingles is through vaccination. In late 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new shingles vaccine, Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine), to replace the previous vaccine, Zostavax. According to the CDC, adults over 50 should get Shingrix to prevent shingles and complications from the disease.
You should also get Shingrix if you're over 19 years old and have a weakened immune system due to disease or therapy. Even if you've had shingles before, don't remember whether you had chickenpox, or received the Zostavax vaccine, Shingrix can help prevent future disease occurrences.
Shingrix isn't recommended if you’re pregnant, are allergic to any component of the vaccine, or have a weakened immune system, fever, illness, or active shingles.
If you think you're experiencing symptoms of shingles, you need to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment of shingles can help reduce the time you have a shingles rash, decrease how severe the rash becomes, and lower your risk of developing long-lasting nerve pain and other health problems.
Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who's had chickenpox can get shingles, but if you're aged 50 and above, have a weakened immune system, take immunosuppressants, or received an organ or bone-marrow transplant, you have a higher risk of developing shingles.
There's no cure for shingles, but early treatment with antiviral medications can help quicken recovery, reduce its severity, and limit severe pain. A shingles vaccine can also help reduce the chances of you getting this viral infection.
No, you can't get shingles if you've never had chickenpox. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the previously dormant chickenpox virus, so you can only develop shingles if you've had chickenpox.
In most cases, doctors will diagnose shingles based on the physical signs and symptoms, like the distinctive band-like rash and the accompanying itching, tingling, or pain in the affected area. However, a visual test may not be enough to diagnose shingles in some people, and the doctor will have to perform further testing.
This can include taking a swab of the lesions – especially the ones that have deroofed – and examining them under a microscope to determine whether the rash is shingles.
Shingles usually appears as a band of rashes or blisters in one area of your body, such as the buttocks. You will notice red patches of skin covered in bumps that turn into fluid-filled, oozing blisters. Eventually, the blisters dry up, crust over, and the scabs clear up.
No, you cannot get shingles from the vaccine. While the vaccine doesn't guarantee you will not get shingles, it will reduce your chances by up to 90%.
Shingles (herpes zoster) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Shingles (herpes zoster) in children | University of Rochester Medical Center
Shingles vaccination | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Shingles | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Shingles: Hope through research | NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Shingles: Overview | American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD)
What is shingles? | Health