What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?

The most obvious symptom of shingles is a painful, blistering rash on one side of your body. You may have other problems with it, too.

Learn all the signs so you'll have a better idea of when you should call your doctor.

The Chickenpox Connection

The same virus, called varicella zoster, causes both chickenpox and shingles. With chickenpox, the virus leaves an itchy, spotted rash all over your body.

After you get over it, the virus stays inside your body. It goes into a sleep-like state. Years later, it can "wake up" and cause shingles.

Symptoms

The first sign of shingles, which is also called herpes zoster, is pain that might feel like burning or tingling on one side of your face, chest, back, or waist. It can be intense. You might also feel like you're coming down with the flu, with symptoms such as:

A few days later, you may see a rash in the spot where you felt the pain. It’s usually only on one side of your body or face, but it can, in rare cases, form on your face or all over your body. The condition also:

  • Causes a sharp, stabbing, or burning pain
  • Sometimes itches
  • Feels very sensitive to the touch

At first, the rash looks like little bumps. In 2 to 3 days, you may see fluid-filled blisters. They grow bigger and pop open. Then a hard crust forms on top of them. After a few days, the scabs fall off.

The shingles rash should fade after 2 to 4 weeks. But the skin underneath the rash might change color and always stay that way.

The pain can last for months or years. This complication is called postherpetic neuralgia. The feeling can be intense.

Eye Symptoms

The rash can spread to your nose or around one eye. If the virus gets into your eye, it could affect your vision. Shingles can damage your cornea, the clear layer in the front.

Signs that you have it in your eye can include:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Sensitivity to light

Continued

Other Symptoms

One way to help tell shingles from an allergy or other type of rash is by its other symptoms. It can cause flu-like symptoms, such as:

These can range from mild to severe. People 50 and older are more likely to have more severe effects than those who are younger.

Medical Help

Call your doctor if you have pain or a rash on one side of your head or body.

You should see an eye doctor if:

  • The rash is around your nose or eye
  • Your eyes are red or painful
  • You have any vision problems
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 08, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: "Shingles: Signs and Symptoms."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Shingles Symptoms."

CDC: "Chickenpox (Varicella) Signs & Symptoms," "Shingles Overview."

National Institute on Aging: "Shingles."

Nemours Foundation: "Shingles."

NIH: "Shingles Symptoms and Diagnosis."

Opstelten, W. BMJ, July 2005.

UpToDate: "Patient Information: Shingles (Beyond the Basics)."

National Health Service UK, “Shingles: When to seek medical advice.”

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