The Relationship Between Diabetes and Shingles

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDJanuary 16th, 2021
senior skin infection

For most, diabetes can feel like a hefty responsibility; it’s a condition that uniquely impacts the way a body responds to almost every kind of situation. From tests to food intake, the list of diabetic responsibilities is seemingly endless and can often feel like a full-time job. While the medical world continues to find ways to help those diagnosed with diabetes better manage this disease, researchers have recently found a connection between the chronic condition and shingles. To understand this relationship and pinpoint the reason diabetics are at increased risk of developing shingles, we’re comparing the two conditions.


Taking a Closer Look

Recently, researchers have linked some chronic conditions—including diabetes—with an increased risk of developing shingles. In addition to the increased risk, diabetics may find it difficult to control blood sugar levels up to six months after the shingle infection occurs. Let’s take a closer look at the two conditions:

Diabetes & Skin Complications

Diabetes can affect anyone, but some people (like seniors) are more susceptible. According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 14.3 million Americans age 65 and older have diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed). This is a high percentage of seniors, especially when you compare it to the rest of the diabetic population—around 34.2 million Americans.

Diabetes can affect every part of the body, including the skin. In many cases, these skin complications are among the first signs of diabetes in an undiagnosed person. Why does this happen? Diabetes symptoms, particularly ones related to high blood glucose levels, can dehydrate a person, as the body tries to remove excess glucose from the blood through urination. The rapid loss of fluid in addition to neuropathy (damage to the nerves caused by excess glucose) can aggravate the skin and cause extreme dryness.


Shingles, or herpes zoster (HZ), is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. The skin condition, severity of symptoms, and complications of shingles increase with age, when the body’s immune system is weakened. The varicella-zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox) is the primary cause of the infection, where the virus will lie inactive in nerve tissue and reactivate as shingles later in life. While this is not a life-threatening condition, it can be very painful and cause complications in older adults. Unfortunately, the reason for shingles is unclear. That said, researchers have theorized that it could be due to lowered infection immunity as we age—making the viral infection much more common for adults age 65 and over as well as for those with underlying health conditions and weakened immune systems.

Why the Risk?

The risk of shingles may be increased in people with chronic conditions, especially in those age 65 and over. Research shows that type 1 diabetes is caused when the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells. It’s possible that this, in addition to weakened immune systems in older adults, contributes to the higher risk of developing bacterial and viral infections, like shingles. The relationship between type 1/type 2 diabetes and other skin complications could be another vulnerability that impacts a person’s risk level for shingles. Neuropathy in diabetics can further increase the risk, as both this symptom of diabetes and shingles affect the nervous system.

DispatchHealth: Here For You When Things Get Uncomfortable

Shingles is an incredibly painful and frustrating condition, especially for those with comorbidities. If you are coping with diabetes and shingles, DispatchHealth can help you benefit from the prompt relief you need. We’re an on-demand, healthcare response team that provides acute care, treatment, and testing to people of all ages in the comfort of their homes. With our in-home service, you’ll no longer suffer through long hospital wait times, germy waiting areas, and impersonal care. Best of all, requesting care is easy; simply contact us via phone, mobile app, or website.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

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