Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is an infection that causes a rash. A shingles rash can be painful and blistering, and it often occurs on one side of the body or face. There may also be ongoing neurologic pain.
Shingles develops when the chickenpox virus reactivates, often many years after the initial infection. There may also be a fever, chills, headache, and gastrointestinal disturbance.
In most cases, shingles is not a life threatening condition, but it can cause severe pain, and the effects can linger for months or years as postherpetic neuralgia.
Recognizing a shingles rash can help a person distinguish it from other conditions. Read on to learn more about what a shingles rash looks like, its symptoms, and the conditions it may resemble.
Before a shingles rash develops, a person may first experience:
Next, the following may start to appear:
- a painful rash of blistering sores, which appears as a single stripe around one side of the body
- a rash around the eye
- fever and chills
- gastrointestinal symptoms
- a rash or ulcers in the mouth, known as oral shingles
A shingles rash tends to develop in a hallmark pattern, usually on the trunk. People sometimes call it a “shingles band” due to the striped pattern. These rashes appear over
Pain occurs because the virus causes inflammation in the nerves.
Over the next
Disseminated shingles involves a widespread rash. It can affect people with weakened immune systems.
Learn more about what shingles looks like when it first starts.
According to the
The symptoms of shingles can sometimes resemble those of other conditions,
- herpes simplex
- irritant contact dermatitis
- insect bites
- mucosal candidiasis, or oral thrush
The best way to work out whether a rash is shingles is to contact a doctor. In most cases, a doctor can make a diagnosis according to a person’s medical history, a physical exam, and their symptoms. They may also take a sample of skin, mucus, or blood for testing to confirm the diagnosis.
Once a person has a chickenpox infection, the virus remains in their nervous system, even after they recover. Although the virus stays in the body, doctors consider it latent, meaning it is 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 — it may become active again if a person’s immune system becomes weakened or stressed.
Shingles may cause other complications besides PHN.
In some cases, shingles
- vision loss
- hearing loss
- encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain
- partial facial paralysis
- polyneuritis, where multiple peripheral nerves become damaged
The virus may also affect the internal organs, such as the:
- spinal cord
- blood vessels
In this case, it can become life threatening. Having a weakened immune system may increase the risk of internal involvement.
Contacting a doctor as soon as there are concerns about shingles may help reduce the risk of complications.
Learn more about the after-effects of shingles.
Here are some frequently asked questions about shingles.
What are the first signs of shingles?
Early symptoms include a feeling of pain, burning, and itching in one area of the skin. After this, a rash appears, and fluid-filled blisters form. The rash is painful because the virus causes infection in the nerve cells.
What are the triggers for shingles?
Possible triggers for shingles
- emotional stress
- the use of immunosuppressant medications
- having a health condition that affects immunity
Will shingles go away without treatment?
Shingles may clear up without treatment, but taking antiviral medication soon after the rash appears
Learn about home remedies for shingles.
How do you confirm you have shingles?
A doctor can perform a physical examination and order tests to confirm the diagnosis. This
How can you tell the difference between shingles and other rashes?
Some distinguishing features of a shingles rash are that it typically only affects one side of the body. A person may experience pain at the site of the rash before it develops, and the rash will blister before crusting over. However, it is best to contact a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
The first symptoms of shingles are often pain, tingling, itching, and then a rash. The rash often forms a band around one side of the body. In time, blisters can form. These usually scab over and heal within 2–4 weeks, but some people have ongoing pain known as postherpetic neuralgia.
It is best to contact a doctor for advice if a person develops a rash. There are other conditions that can resemble shingles, and a doctor may order tests to confirm the diagnosis.