What Are The Symptoms
The first sign of shingles is often burning, sharp pain, tingling, or numbness in your skin on one side of your body or face. The most common site is the back or upper abdomen. You may have severe itching or aching. You also may feel tired and ill with fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach or belly pain.
One to 14 days after you start feeling pain, you will notice a rash of small blisters on reddened skin. Within a few days after they appear, the blisters will turn yellow, then dry and crust over. Over the next 2 weeks the crusts drop off, and the skin continues to heal over the next several days to weeks.
Because shingles usually follows nerve paths, the blisters are usually found in a line, often extending from the back or side around to the belly. The blisters are almost always on just one side of the body. Shingles usually doesn’t cross the midline of the body. The rash also may appear on one side of your face or scalp. The painful rash may be in the area of your ear or eye. When shingles occurs on the head or scalp, symptoms can include headaches and weakness of one side of the face, which causes that side of the face to look droopy. The symptoms usually go away eventually, but it may take many months.
In some cases the pain can last for weeks, months, or years, long after the rash heals. This is called postherpetic neuralgia.
How Shingles Can Get Into The Eyes
After the symptoms of chickenpox have cleared up, the virus lies dormant in the body. More specifically, the virus remains in the nerves. At any time, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles to develop.
When the virus reactivates in a nerve called the trigeminal nerve, it can cause shingles of the eye. The trigeminal nerve carries signals between the brain and several areas of the face, including the eye.
Will Shingles Go Away On Its Own
Shingles isn’t life-threatening, but it can be incredibly painful and, in some cases, complications can arise. While this rash typically goes away its own, prompt treatment can reduce your pain and help shingles go away faster.
“Several antivirals can be used to treat shingles. These drugs can help you heal more quickly and reduce your pain, but they are most effective when started within 72 hours of your rash appearing. This means it’s important to see your doctor as soon as you suspect shingles,” says Dr. Brown. “When it comes to the pain associated with shingles, most people are able to manage it using over-the-counter pain relievers. But, pain can be severe for some people. In these cases, your doctor can prescribe stronger pain medications.”
Beyond treating your immediate pain and rash, seeing your doctor is also important since serious complications can occur as a result of shingles, such as:
- Postherpetic neuralgia pain that lasts for months to years after the rash clears, with this pain being debilitating in some cases
- Skin infection occurs if the open sores of your rash become infected with bacteria, which can require antibiotics and delay healing
- Vision problems while rare, if your rash develops near your eye, the associated inflammation can damage your retina and, in some cases, result in vision loss
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You Cannot Get Shingles From Someone With Chickenpox
You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox.
But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.
When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body. It can be reactivated later and cause shingles if someone’s immune system is lowered.
This can be because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments like chemotherapy.
Shingles Or Something Else
Small blisters that appear only on the lips or around the mouth may be cold sores, sometimes called fever blisters. They’re not shingles, but are instead caused by the herpes simplex virus. Itchy blisters that appear after hiking, gardening, or spending time outdoors could be a reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac. If you aren’t sure what’s causing your rash, see your healthcare provider.
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What Does A Mild Case Of Shingles Look Like
Not everyone with shingles will develop a blistering rash. A mild case of shingles may include a red rash without blisters. The shingles rash and blisters are distinct characteristics of the illness. Mild cases of shingles do not usually cause headaches, fever, or fatigue.
Whether mild or severe, pain is the most common symptom of shingles. Most people describe a deep burning, throbbing, or stabbing sensation. The pain usually subsides within 30 days.
What Are The Risks Associated With Shingles
Some people experience pain around the rash site for a month or morepain that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
Scratching the rash can also cause a secondary infection if harmful bacteria get into the sores.
Shingles on the face can involve the eyes, which is serious because it can cause scarring and blindness.
The occurrence and severity of shingles and its complications increase with age.
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How Is It Treated
It is best to start treatment as soon as possible after you notice the rash. See your healthcare provider to discuss treatment with antiviral medicine, such as acyclovir. This medicine is most effective if you start taking it within the first 3 days of the rash. Antiviral medicine may speed your recovery and lessen the chance that the pain will last for a long time.
Your provider may also recommend or prescribe:
- medicine for pain
- antibacterial salves or lotions to help prevent bacterial infection of the blisters
What Are Some Common Treatments For Shingles
The CDC recommends that adults 50 years or older receive two doses of the shingles vaccine. Additionally, several antiviral medicines like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of the illness. These medicines are most effective when taken immediately after the rash appears.
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How Long Is Shingles Contagious
Similar to chickenpox, shingles is a contagious illness. But, before we address how long you may be contagious, we need to talk about how shingles spreads which might actually surprise you.
“Shingles is indeed contagious, but it can only be spread to people who haven’t yet had chickenpox, or the chickenpox vaccine. In these cases, the shingles virus typically spreads via direct contact with the opened blisters of your rash. After being infected, a person doesn’t develop shingles, though he or she develops chickenpox,” explains Dr. Brown.
Since you can’t really know who is and who isn’t susceptible to chickenpox, it’s important to take safety measures if you have shingles.
“When you have shingles, you’re considered contagious until your open sores crust and scab over. This generally takes between 7 to 10 days,” says Dr. Brown. “Depending on where your rash develops on your body and where you work, you may be able to return to work before your shingles dry up.”
Before your rash dries up, Dr. Brown recommends the following to prevent spreading shingles to others:
- Make sure your rash is covered with gauze
- Limit interaction with other people if your shingles rash is on your face
- Consult with your doctor about returning to work if you work in a medical setting or nursing home, as well as if you interact with people frequently while at work
Where Does Shingles Come From
When you have chickenpox as a child, your body fights off the varicella-zoster virus and the physical signs of chickenpox fade away, but the virus always remains in your body. In adulthood, sometimes the virus becomes active again. This time, the varicella-zoster virus makes its second appearance in the form of shingles.
If I Have Disseminated Zoster/shingles What Can I Expect For My Hospital Stay
It is important to note that most people with shingles do not need to be in a hospital, but if you do:
- You will be in an airborne-contact isolation room.
- The door will be kept closed.
- A sign on your door will remind people who have never had chickenpox or the vaccine not to enter.
- The sign will also remind staff to wear gowns and gloves when entering the room.
How Do Dermatologists Treat Shingles
An antiviral medication can:
Reduce the amount of time that you have a shingles rash
Lower your risk of developing long-lasting nerve pain and other health problems
One of three antiviral medications is usually prescribedacyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir.
To treat your symptoms, dermatologists typically recommend the following:
Pain: Medication that you can buy without a prescription can help, such as:
If you have severe pain, your dermatologist may prescribe a medication that reduces inflammation, such as a corticosteroid.
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Timeline Of Shingles Symptoms
Shingles actually doesn’t occur without a prior chickenpox infection. VZV lies dormant in nerve roots after you recover where it can reactivate years later, returning as shingles. But though they share the same viral cause, the two conditions are distinct.
The first sign of shingles is usually a burning or stinging sensation in a band-like formation around the waist, chest, stomach, or back.
You may experience itching or become incredibly sensitive to even the softest touch. The weight of bed sheets on your skin may be uncomfortable. You may also experience fatigue, fever, and headache.
After a few days or even up to a couple of weeks, the telltale shingles rash will appear. This rash consists of fluid-filled blisters that worsen quickly. The blisters may look like chickenpox, but they are clustered together.
The shingles rash can vary in color, depending on your skin tone. On darker skin, the rash may be pink, grayish, dark brown, or even purple. On lighter skin, it will be red.
This is the stage at which VZV can be passed on to someone who has never had or been vaccinated against chickenpox.
Blisters typically scab over within a week to 10 days. Shingles typically takes three to five weeks to progress through all of its stages.
Can Shingles Cause Chronic Pain
In some people, the pain of shingles may linger for months or even years after the rash has healed. This pain, due to damaged nerves in and beneath the skin, is known as postherpetic neuralgia. Others feel a chronic itch in the area where the rash once was. In severe cases, the pain or itching may be bad enough to cause insomnia, weight loss, or depression.
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Outlook For People With Shingles In The Eye
Your shingles rash should heal within one to three weeks. Symptoms around your face and eyes can sometimes take up to a few months to heal.
In the early stages of the disease, your doctor will check you every few days. After youve received treatment for the infection, youll probably need to see your eye doctor every 3 to 12 months to check for glaucoma, scarring, and other long-term problems that can affect your vision.
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What Is The Outcome For Someone Who Has Shingles
Most people get shingles once, but its possible to get it again.
If you have a healthy immune system, the blisters tend to clear in 7 to 10 days. The rash tends to go away completely within 2 to 4 weeks. The pain may last longer, but usually stops in 1 or 2 months.
For some people, the pain will last longer than the rash. When it does, its called postherpetic neuralgia , which can come and go or be constant. PHN can last for months, years, or the rest of your life. Treatment can help reduce the amount of pain you feel.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you continue to have pain. Treatment can help you feel more comfortable.
For anyone who has a shingles rash, the right self-care can help ease your discomfort. Youll find out what dermatologists recommend at, Shingles: Self-care.
ReferencesCenters for Disease Control and Prevention . About shingles. Page last reviewed 10/17/2017. Last accessed 4/1/2019.
Dooling KL, Guo A, et al. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for Use of Herpes Zoster Vaccines. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018 67:103-8.
Madkan V, Sra K, et al. Human herpes viruses. In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. . Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008: 1204-8.
Straus SE, Oxman MN. Varicella and herpes zoster. In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatricks Dermatology in General Medicine . McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1885-98.
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How Can I Take Care Of Myself
- Take a pain-relief medicine such as acetaminophen. Take other medicine as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Put cool, moist washcloths on the rash.
- Rest in bed during the early stages if you have fever and other symptoms.
- Try not to let clothing or bed linens rub against the rash and irritate it.
- You develop worsening pain or fever.
- You develop a severe headache, stiff neck, hearing loss, or changes in your ability to think.
- The blisters show signs of bacterial infection, such as increasing pain or redness, or milky yellow drainage from the blister sites.
- The blisters are close to the eyes or you have pain in your eyes or trouble seeing.
- You have trouble walking.
Related Stories From Yourtango:
The pain was my constant companion which made me feel very melodramatic and like a Brontë character. I made it to the local garden center and nursery without incident. I needed to look at something fresh and vibrant.
Then, as I took off my sunglasses to inspect a potted plant, I heard a kid ask him mom. What happened to her eye, mama? Whats wrong with her eye?
If I had been in possession of a velvet cape to twirl about myself as I skulked off into the darkness, believe me, I wouldve.
But I didnt. So instead, I pocketed my sunglasses and smiled at the kid in question.
Do you know chicken pox? This is shingles, and its chicken pox for grown ups, I told him with a smile on my crusty face.
He considered this as his mom squirmed. Do you get to stay home? he asked.
I nodded Yup. And watch TV.
In just a matter of seconds Id gone from the Beast to a source of envy.
As I write this, Im still blistery and keeping a relatively low profile, but Im no longer housebound. Im also no longer avoiding my reflection. I look and assess and I dont see good or bad or pretty or ugly.
I just see a face, and if I look super close I can almost make out myself.
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What If I Have Shingles And A Poor Immune System
If you have a poor immune system and develop shingles then see your doctor straightaway. You will normally be given antiviral medication whatever your age and will be monitored for complications. People with a poor immune system include:
- People taking high-dose steroids. per day for more than one week in the previous three months. Or, children who have taken steroids within the previous three months, equivalent to prednisolone 2 mg/kg per day for at least one week, or 1 mg/kg per day for one month.)
- People on lower doses of steroids in combination with other immunosuppressant medicines.
- People taking anti-arthritis medications which can affect the bone marrow.
- People being treated with chemotherapy or generalised radiotherapy, or who have had these treatments within the previous six months.
- People who have had an organ transplant and are on immunosuppressive treatment.
- People who have had a bone marrow transplant and who are still immunosuppressed.
- People with an impaired immune system.
- People who are immunosuppressed with HIV infection.
Can You Get Shingles From The Covid
There have been a few reports of shingles happening in people who were vaccinated against COVID-19. The varicella-zoster virus was reactivated in these people.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If youve had chickenpox, youre at risk of developing shingles later in life. Shingles causes a rash that is contagious and painful. The disease can have serious complications. The best thing you can do to reduce your risk is to get the shingles vaccine. The vaccines are safe and effective.
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Are There Natural Ways To Boost Your Immune System To Help Lessen The Chances Of Developing Shingles
Stress is a risk factor for developing shingles, so limiting your stress can be helpful. Try meditation, yoga or other relaxation methods.
Other things you can do include:
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
- Dont smoke or use tobacco products.
These are all tips for an overall healthy lifestyle, not just for reducing your chance of getting shingles.
The Stages Of Shingles Recovery
After the rash develops, which usually appears on only one side of the body, it forms . You may feel like you have the flu or a mild . As you recover, you will typically go through these stages:
- Blisters begin to burst or weep about 5 days after they develop, and lasts from 7 to 10 days. You should take time off from work and other activities during this period, because you can spread the virus to others through the fluid in the blisters. Otherwise, you can return to work when you feel comfortable doing so.
- The blisters will scab over and begin to heal, which takes from 1 to 3 weeks, unless the rash is on your scalp in which case it can take several months.
- As they heal, the blisters become smaller and less painful, generally over a period of 3 to 5 weeks.
- About 10 to 15% of people with shingles will develop chronic , which can be severe. Sensitivity to touch at the site of the rash is possible. The older you are, the more likely it is you will develop this disorder, called post-herpetic , or PHN. The pain often lessens over time. Available treatments include anti-inflammatory injections, , certain tricyclic antidepressants, or capsaicin cream, which is made from chili peppers and can help ease nerve pain.
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