Is it shingles? Pictures and symptoms
Shingles is an infection that causes a painful, burning rash on the body. It can occur as a complication after a person has had chicken pox, but it may not appear until years later.
In most cases, shingles is not a life-threatening condition. It can cause severe pain, however, which can sometimes last for months.
The most common symptom of shingles is a painful rash that usually appears on one side of the body.
A few days before the rash develops, other symptoms may be present, including weakness, chills, muscle aches, and nausea. Some people also develop pain, itching, tingling, and burning on the skin before the rash appears.
The rash from shingles tends to develop in a certain pattern, most commonly on the trunk. It is sometimes referred to as a “shingles band” due to the striped pattern. The rash may start as red patches but changes over time and develops into fluid-filled blisters. These blisters may ooze.
After about 7 to 10 days, the blisters may crust or scab. Although it can vary, the rash often clears up in 2 to 4 weeks.
Typically, shingles appears on the trunk. The rash also can develop on other areas of the body, including the face. When the rash appears on the face, it often develops around the eyes or over the nose.
One of the biggest misconceptions about shingles is that it only affects older adults. Although people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop shingles, the disease can also affect younger people. Even children can develop shingles.
Some people may also be under the impression that the condition is rare. That’s not the case. In fact, shingles is common. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, about 50 percent of people who live to age 85 will develop shingles at some point in their life.
One of the most common complications of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia. The condition involves continued pain long after the rash from shingles clears up.
According to the CDC, postherpetic neuralgia affects of people over the age of 60 who develop shingles.
If it appears near or over the eyes, shingles can also lead to a severe infection of the retina, which can lead to vision loss. Bacterial skin infections are another possible complication.
In rare cases, shingles can lead to encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain.
Shingles vs. other conditions
Shingles can sometimes be mistaken for another skin conditions, such as hives, psoriasis, or eczema.
The characteristics of a rash may help doctors identify the cause. For example, hives are often raised and look like welts. Psoriasis often involves red patches that have white scales throughout the rash.
At first, the shingles rash appears as small raised dots. One difference between shingles and other rashes is the pattern that develops. The shingles rash often develops in a pattern along the nerves of the chest and belly.
A rash due to allergies or eczema may develop anywhere, including the legs and the arms. The shingles rash also tends to clear up in a few weeks. Rashes due to eczema and psoriasis may last longer. A shingles rash is also usually a lot more painful than other rashes.
The best way to work out if a rash is shingles is to see a doctor. In most cases, a doctor can make a diagnosis based on medical history, a physical exam, and symptoms.
Anyone who suspects they have shingles should consider seeing their healthcare provider. In some cases, medication is prescribed to speed recovery. Medications are most effective when taken within 72 hours of the rash appearing.
A virus called varicella zoster causes shingles. Varicella zoster virus also causes chickenpox, which used to be a common childhood illness before a vaccine was developed.
Once a person is infected with chickenpox, the virus remains in their nervous system, even after they recover. Although the virus stays in the body, it’s considered latent, which means it’s inactive and does not cause any symptoms.
At some point, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles. The reason the virus reactivates is not entirely clear. According to the Mayo Clinic, it may become active again if a person’s immune system becomes weakened or stressed.
Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for developing shingles. Factors that increase a person’s chances of developing the condition include being over age 50 and having a disease that weakens the immune system.
People taking medications that decrease their immune system function, such as chemotherapy or steroids, are also at an increased risk for shingles.
According to the , shingles is not transmitted from person to person. The varicella zoster virus can be transmitted, but a person exposed to it develops chickenpox instead of shingles if they have not had chickenpox in the past.
Currently, there is no cure for shingles. Treatment is available to decrease the severity of the infection and reduce symptoms.
For example, antiviral medications may be recommended. Antiviral medication for shingles does not kill the virus. Instead, it stops it from multiplying, which may shorten the length of the illness.
Medications to treat pain may also be prescribed. Various medications are available, including creams, which are applied to the skin, and oral medications.
Home treatment may include applying cool compresses to the skin to ease the pain.
It’s also important to prevent the virus from spreading. Although shingles itself cannot be transmitted, the virus can be passed on, possibly causing chickenpox.
Someone with shingles is not contagious once the blisters have scabbed over and are no longer weeping. Before they have scabbed over, it is important to keep them covered around other people.
One way to prevent shingles is to get vaccinated. The chickenpox vaccine is often given as a routine childhood vaccine. Adults who have not had chickenpox can also get the vaccine.
For those who have already had chickenpox, there is also a shingles vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration approved the shingles vaccine for adults over the age of 50. The CDC recommend adults who have a history of chickenpox get the vaccine. There is no maximum age for getting the vaccine.
It’s important to understand that both vaccines do not guarantee an individual will not be infected with the virus. They do substantially decrease a person’s chances of developing the diseases, however.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the shingles vaccine provides protection from the virus for about 5 years. After that, the effectiveness of the vaccine decreases. Currently, the vaccine is only given once.
Shingles can affect someone more than once. People who have already had shingles can also get vaccinated to prevent getting the infection again.
The shingles vaccine is safe for most people. As always, someone considering the vaccine should discuss it with their doctor. Side effects from the vaccine are usually mild and include pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site.
Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. Get advice from 111 as soon as possible if you think you have it.
Check if you have shingles
The first signs of shingles can be:
- a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin
- a headache or feeling generally unwell
A rash will appear a few days later.
Usually you get the shingles rash on your chest and tummy, but it can appear anywhere on your body including on your face, eyes and genitals.
The rash appears as blotches on your skin, on 1 side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles.
Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 as soon as you suspect shingles
You might need medicine to help speed up your recovery and avoid longer-lasting problems.
This works best if taken within 3 days of your symptoms starting.
111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.
Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.
How to treat shingles symptoms yourself
take paracetamol to ease pain
keep the rash clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection
wear loose-fitting clothing
use a cool compress (a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or a wet cloth) a few times a day
do not let dressings or plasters stick to the rash
do not use antibiotic cream – this slows healing
How long shingles lasts
It can take up to 4 weeks for the rash to heal.
Your skin can be painful for weeks after the rash has gone, but it usually gets better over time.
Stay away from certain groups of people if you have shingles
You cannot spread shingles to others. But people who have not had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from you.
This is because shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus.
Try to avoid:
- pregnant people who have not had chickenpox before
- people with a weakened immune system – like someone having chemotherapy
- babies less than 1 month old – unless you gave birth to them, as your baby should be protected from the virus by your immune system
Work and school
Stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out.
You can only spread the infection to other people while the rash oozes fluid.
You can cover the rash with loose clothing or a non-sticky dressing.
Shingles and pregnancy
If you're pregnant and get shingles, there's no danger to your pregnancy or baby.
But you should be referred to a specialist, as you may need antiviral treatment.
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.
A shingles vaccine is available on the NHS for people in their 70s. It helps reduce your risk of getting shingles.
If you get shingles after being vaccinated, the symptoms can be much milder.
Ask your GP surgery if you can get the vaccine on the NHS.
Find out more about who can have the shingles vaccine
Page last reviewed: 01 July 2021
Next review due: 01 July 2024
What Shingles Looks Like
Shingles is an outbreak of a rash or blisters on the skin caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox—the varicella-zoster virus. However, the two conditions are distinctly different.
Chickenpox is the primary infection from the varicella-zoster virus. It produces an uncomfortable, itchy rash, with symptoms such as fever, headache, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Shingles is the reactivation of the infection. Most people develop chickenpox as children. Shingles most often appears in adulthood.
After you’ve recovered from chickenpox, the virus migrates to the roots of your spinal and cranial nerves where it remains dormant. You most likely will not have chickenpox again. However, the virus can reappear in an adult as shingles. Known as herpes zoster (HZ), shingles occurs when the virus is reactivated in one of your nerves.
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 tell-tale shingles rash will appear. This rash consists of fluid-filled blisters that typically scab over within a week to 10 days. The blisters may look like chickenpox, but they are clustered together.
The shingles rash is usually in a striped shape on one side of the body or across the face, following the dermatome. The dermatome is the pattern of nerves that spread out from the affected nerve root.
Shingles can generally be diagnosed by your doctor by taking a health history and looking at your rash. In some instances, your doctor may take a sample of the fluid from one of the blisters to verify the diagnosis.
There is no cure for shingles. However, antivirals can shorten the duration and make the attack less severe, especially when taken within the first three days after the rash appears. Though shingles most often appears on the skin, it can affect any part of the body, including internal organs.
Shingles typically takes three to five weeks to progress through all of the stages of the illness. These stages can be seen below.
After experiencing moderate to severe stinging or burning pain, slightly reddish patches of skin with small bumps will develop in a cluster in the area of pain. These patches then turn into small blisters.
The blisters are typically filled with pus and may be itchy. This stage of shingles can last up to five days before moving to the next stage.
Scabs and Crusting
In this stage, the blisters begin to dry up and scab over. The scabs turn a yellowish color and can take two to 10 days to form.
Scratching your shingles blisters can break them open, which may lead to a bacterial infection. This can lead to scarring.
Be careful when scratching the blisters. If you notice that the area becomes red or swells, see a doctor to rule out further infection.
Ophthalmic shingles, or herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO), is a severe variant of shingles that affects 20% of people who get shingles. People who have a compromised immune system, such as those with HIV/AIDS, are at higher risk for developing ophthalmic shingles.
HZO usually appears within two to four weeks after the onset of the shingles rash. All parts of the eye can be affected.
You can develop blisters around the eye which may cause the eyelids and surrounding area to swell. The cornea can be affected as well, causing calcification (white clouds over the iris). Vascularization can cause blood vessels in the eye to become more pronounced.
Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus Overview
The shingles “belt” is one of the most common symptoms of shingles. The belt is a single stripe of a rash that appears either on the right or left side of the body around the trunk. This rash pattern is easily identified by doctors and aids in diagnosis of shingles.
Shingles on Dermatomes
Shingles most often occurs on one dermatome. A dermatome is a branch of sensory nerves that arise out of a single spinal nerve.
Though rare, shingles can affect multiple dermatomes. This can lead to a widespread shingles rash across the body.
If you are healthy and receive treatment soon after the blisters occur, you will likely recover fairly quickly. The blisters and scabs will heal, and the pain will subside within three to five weeks.
If you are immunosuppressed, shingles can be a serious threat and you should talk to your doctor about your best treatment options to avoid further complications.
Shingles Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.
Shingles is a painful, red, blistered rash that develops due to reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. It usually appears in a stripe along a nerve path, called a dermatome. The blisters should scab over in a week to 10 days. The pain can take three to five weeks to subside.
A Word From Verywell
If you think you have shingles, it’s important to contact your doctor so that you can receive a proper diagnosis and timely treatment to avoid any complications.
It’s also important to note that shingles is not contagious. However, a person with shingles blisters can transmit chickenpox to someone who has never had chickenpox or is not vaccinated for chickenpox. If you have shingles, it is best to avoid others who have not had chickenpox.
The best way to avoid getting shingles is to have the chickenpox vaccine in childhood. If you have had chickenpox, you can get the shingles vaccine at age 50 or older.
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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Shingles information page. Updated 2021.
MedlinePlus. Chickenpox | varicella. Updated 2021.
Johnson RW, Alvarez-Pasquin MJ, Bijl M, et al. Herpes zoster epidemiology, management, and disease and economic burden in Europe: a multidisciplinary perspective. Ther Adv Vaccines. 2015;3(4):109-120. doi:10.1177/2051013615599151 [Published correction appears in Ther Adv Vaccines. 2016;4(1-2):32.]
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Shingles: hope through research. Updated 2021.
MedlinePlus. Shingles | herpes zoster. Updated 2021.
Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Shingles: overview. Updated November 21, 2019.
Tuft S. How to manage herpes zoster ophthalmicus. Community Eye Health. 2020;33(108):71-72.
Kantaria SM. Bilateral asymmetrical herpes zoster. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2015;6(3):236. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.156448
What is shingles? (with pictures)
You may have heard of chickenpox, but have you heard of shingles?
Shingles—also known as herpes zoster—is a disease caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus.
Shingles is a serious disease and 1 in 10 people have nerve pain (which can be severe) caused by shingles which can sometimes last for months or even years.
Shingles causes a blistering rash and can only develop if you’ve had chickenpox before.
If you’ve had chickenpox in the past you can develop shingles.
This is because the inactive chickenpox virus stays in your nerve cells near your spine. When shingles develops it’s because the virus has become active again. Usually, a person will only get shingles once in their lives, but it can sometime occur again if you have a weakened immune system.
Shingles is more likely to occur in people who:
- are aged over 50
- have weakened immune systems, for example:
- have HIV or AIDS
- have had an organ transplant
- have recently had a bone marrow transplant
- have a condition which requires treatment that affects the immune system, such as chemotherapy for cancer.
Shingles presents as a skin rash characterised by pain and blistering. It can affect any part of the body, but usually appears on one side of the face or body.
- a burning, tingling or itching sensation
- a stabbing sensation
- sensitivity to touch
- numbness in the affected area of the body
- sensitivity to light
- fever and/or headache
See your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing any shingles symptoms, as the sooner you start treatment, the more effective it is.
You can’t catch shingles from another person with shingles, but the virus responsible for chickenpox can be passed on by someone with shingles to a person who has not had chickenpox (disease) or been vaccinated against it. This can happen when a person comes into contact with the fluid from the blisters. To prevent passing the virus on, keep the rash covered with clothing or a dressing and always clean your hands after you touch the rash or change any dressing.
Shingles gets better without any complications in many people. In others several complications can occur. These include:
- ongoing nerve pain (post-herpetic neuralgia)
- shingles occurring in the eye area can result in temporary or permanent vision loss. Your doctor may refer you to an eye specialist for treatment
- the shingles rash can become infected and you might need antibiotics.
Shingles is generally diagnosed by a doctor, who will usually examine you and may also test the fluid from the blisters. There is no cure for shingles, but it can be treated with antiviral medication. Treatment works best if started within three days and should ideally be started within 24 hours of the rash appearing.
The National Immunisation Program provides a free shingle vaccine at 70 years of age. There is a free catch-up program for 71- to 79-year-olds until the end of 2021.
The (Zostavax®) vaccine is available on prescription to people aged 50 to 69 years and from 80 years, but it must be paid for by the patient.
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Last updated: 8 August 2021
Rash pictures shingles
What Does Shingles Look Like?
What is shingles?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, occurs when the dormant chickenpox virus, varicella zoster, is reactivated in your nerve tissues. Early signs of shingles include tingling and localized pain.
Most, but not all, people with shingles develop a blistering rash. You may also experience itching, burning, or deep pain.
Typically, the shingles rash lasts two to four weeks, and most people make a complete recovery.
Doctors are often able to quickly diagnose shingles from the appearance of the rash.
Early symptoms of shingles may include fever and general weakness. You may also feel areas of pain, burning, or a tingling sensation. A few days later, the first signs of a rash appear.
You may begin to notice pink or red blotchy patches on one side of your body. These patches cluster along nerve pathways. Some people report feeling shooting pains in the area of the rash.
During this initial stage, shingles is not contagious.
The rash quickly develops fluid-filled blisters similar to chickenpox. They may be accompanied by itching. New blisters continue to develop for several days. Blisters appear over a localized area and do not spread over your whole body.
Blisters are most common on the torso and face, but they can occur elsewhere. In rare cases, the rash appears on the lower body.
It’s not possible to transmit shingles to someone. However, if you’ve never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, it’s possible to get chickenpox from someone with shingles through direct contact with active blisters. The same virus causes both shingles and chickenpox.
Scabbing and crusting
Blisters sometimes erupt and ooze. They may then turn slightly yellow and begin to flatten. As they dry out, scabs begin to form. Each blister can take one to two weeks to completely crust over.
During this stage, your pain may ease a little, but it can continue for months, or in some cases, years.
Once all blisters have completely crusted over, there is low risk of spreading the virus.
The shingles “belt”
Shingles often appears around the rib cage or waist, and may look like a “belt” or half belt. You might also hear this formation referred to as a “shingles band” or a “shingles girdle.”
This classic presentation is easily recognizable as shingles. The belt can cover a wide area on one side of your midsection. Its location can make tight clothing particularly uncomfortable.
Ophthalmic shingles affects the nerve that controls facial sensation and movement in your face. In this type, the shingles rash appears around your eye and over your forehead and nose. Ophthalmic shingles may be accompanied by headache.
Other symptoms include redness and swelling of the eye, inflammation of your cornea or iris, and drooping eyelid. Ophthalmic shingles can also cause blurred or double vision.
According to the U.S. (CDC), about 20 percent of people with shingles develop a rash that crosses multiple dermatomes. Dermatomes are separate skin areas that are supplied by separate spinal nerves.
When the rash affects three or more dermatomes, it is called disseminated, or widespread zoster. In these cases, the rash may look more like chickenpox than shingles. This is more likely to happen if you have a weakened immune system.
Open sores of any kind are always susceptible to bacterial infection. To lower the possibility of a secondary infection, keep the area clean and avoid scratching. Secondary infection is also more likely if you have a weakened immune system.
Severe infection can lead to permanent scarring of the skin. Report any sign of infection to your doctor immediately. Early treatment can help prevent it from spreading.
Most people can expect the rash to heal within two to four weeks. Although some people may be left with minor scars, most will make a complete recovery with no visible scarring.
In some cases, pain along the site of the rash can continue for several months or longer. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia.
You may have heard that once you get shingles, you can’t get it again. However, the cautions that shingles can return multiple times in some people.
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