Understanding Shingles: Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on May 06, 2023
3 min read

The symptoms of shingles include:

  • Localized burning, tingling, itching, prickling pain that starts days to weeks before the rash appears. The pain varies by person but can be constant or come and go.
  • Days after these symptoms appear, a group of fluid-filled blisters appears on a red, inflamed base of skin; the blisters typically crust over in a week.
  • The rash may be accompanied by fever, fatigue, or headache.
  • The rash will not cross the midline of your body.
  • You might have swollen lymph nodes on one side of your body.

Shingles can cause other problems both while you have the shingles rash and after the rash has cleared up. 

Postherpetic neuralgia

Postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN, is the most common complication that shingles can cause.

Your shingles symptoms usually go away when the rash is gone. But with postherpetic neuralgia, you may feel pain, itching, burning, and tingling for months after the rash has healed.

It’s more common in older people. Sometimes, it starts to get better after a few months. In other cases, it lasts for years and could be permanent.

Your doctor may suggest different medications or therapies to help with this neuralgia.

Eye problems

If you have shingles in or near your eyes, forehead, or nose, see your doctor right away. Without treatment, it can lead to pain in your eyes but also to permanent loss of vision.

Shingles in your eyes can cause:

  • Sores and scarring on the surface
  • Swelling and redness
  • Glaucoma, a disease in which pressure builds in your eye
  • Damage to the nerves

Ramsay Hunt syndrome

See your doctor as soon as possible if you get shingles on or around your ears. If you don’t get treated, it can lead to Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which can cause:

  • Dizziness and other balance problems
  • Earaches
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of ability to move parts of your face
  • Ringing in your ear, called tinnitus

This condition is rare, but with early treatment, you have a good chance of full recovery.

Skin problems

The shingles rash comes with blisters that break open and crust over. Keep them clean and dry so you don’t get a bacterial infection. If you do get one, you may be more likely to get scars.

If you begin to run a high fever, check with your doctor. You might have a bacterial infection.


In very rare cases, shingles can lead to inflammation or swelling in your lungs, brain, or liver, and could cause death.

You should get regular care for shingles so your doctor can check for these uncommon problems.

  • You suspect an outbreak of shingles is beginning. If you take antiviral drugs in the early stages, you may shorten the course of the infection.
  • You have the rash anywhere on your face. 
  • The affected area becomes infected with bacteria (signs include spreading redness, swelling, a high fever, and pus). Antibiotics can help halt the spread of bacterial infection but not the shingles itself.
  • Your rash lasts longer than 10 days without improvement.
  • The pain becomes too great to bear. Your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers or a nerve block.
  • You have shingles and are in contact with someone who has a weakened immune system.
  • You develop any strange symptoms with the shingles rash, such as vertigo, buzzing in your ears, sudden weakness, double vision, face droop, or confusion.