While less common, young adults can develop shingles. This is more likely if they have a weakened immune system.

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The risk of getting shingles increases with age. Over half of cases affect people 60 and older, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

But younger people can still get shingles. They may have a higher risk if they have a weakened immune system.

The incidence of shingles has increased in younger adults. One older 2016 study showed that the shingles rate has increased in all age groups.

Keep reading to learn why young adults develop shingles, what symptoms to look for, and how to prevent it.

Shingles can develop in anyone who’s had chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, varicella zoster virus (VZV) remains dormant (inactive) within nerve cells in your body.

If VZV is triggered to reactivate, the virus begins to replicate (multiply) again and move along the affected nerves. When it reaches your skin, the characteristic shingles rash develops.

Reactivation tends to happen in people with a weakened immune system, as the immune system is not strong enough to keep VZV from replicating.

A weakened immune system can occur due to age. But the immune system can also be compromised by:

This can happen at any age.

People who are immunocompromised have a higher risk of developing shingles regardless of age. This can include people who take medications that weaken the immune system or who have health conditions, such as cancer.

What if I’ve had the vaccine for chickenpox?

Many young adults have had the vaccine for VZV, the virus that causes chickenpox. Although uncommon, it’s still possible to develop shingles if you’ve had the vaccine.

People who’ve received the VZV vaccine are at a lower risk for developing shingles. For example, a 2019 study on children found that the incidence of shingles was 78% lower in children who received the VZV vaccine than those who didn’t.

Younger people who get shingles typically have a milder illness. This means that the rash and associated pain may not be as severe as it would be in an older adult. Most adults who have shingles don’t develop it again.

It’s still important to talk with your doctor if you suspect you have shingles. This is because taking antiviral medications shortly after your symptoms start can help to reduce symptoms and shorten their duration.

Learn about the symptoms of a milder case of shingles.

Whether you’ve had chickenpox or shingles, the best way to protect against developing shingles in the future is through vaccination. The shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, consists of 2 doses spaced out between 2 to 6 months.

According to the FDA, it’s currently indicated for use in adults 50 years and older and for people 18 or older who are immunocompromised.

If you’re younger than 50 years old and are immunocompromised, you can ask your doctor about getting Shingrix.

Learn more about the shingles vaccine.

Although it’s more common in older adults, young adults can also develop shingles.

Shingles is a reactivation of VZV, the virus that causes chickenpox. VZV reactivation is associated with a weakened immune system. While this happens as we age, it can also occur due to factors like other illnesses or stress.

Because of the factors above, anyone who’s had chickenpox can develop shingles, regardless of age. Most adults who develop shingles only have it once.

Shingles in young adults is typically mild. Talk with a doctor if you believe you have shingles, even if you’re under 50 years old. Antiviral medications may help to reduce your symptoms and shorten their duration.