Shingles causes a painful, itchy, and blistering rash. The blisters fill with fluid but eventually crust over and disappear during the course of the infection. Treatment includes antivirals, oatmeal baths, and cool compresses.

Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles as the virus lays dormant in the body.

When shingles appears, it often starts as a burning or tingling sensation on the area of skin where the rash will appear. They then develop a blistering rash.

This article reviews what shingles blisters are, what they look like, treatments, and more.

Shingles appears on the skin, often as a stripe or small patch. It typically affects only one side of the body. It often appears on the face or torso of the body, though it can appear anywhere.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), the rash often appears as a cluster of small blisters. The skin beneath the blisters is often inflamed.

The rash is often red in color on lighter skin tones, but it may appear purple, pinkish, or brown on darker skin tones.

People with a weakened immune system may develop a widespread rash. In these cases, it may resemble chickenpox.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) notes that the blisters will develop a few days after a person develops the rash. After 7–10 days, the blisters will dry up and crust over. The scabs will then clear up a few weeks later.

A shingles rash develops in the following way:

  1. A person will experience a burning or tingling pain on one side of the body, usually where the rash will appear.
  2. The rash will appear 1–5 days later.
  3. A few days after the rash appears, a person will develop fluid-filled blisters.
  4. In 7–10 days, the blisters will crack open, bleed, and then scab over.
  5. The rash and scabs will completely resolve in 2–4 weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that direct contact with the blisters can transmit the virus to others. However, the risk of transmission is low, providing a person covers the rash.

The virus is unable to spread to others before the blisters appear and after the rash crusts over.

A person should contact a doctor when they suspect they have shingles. A doctor can prescribe antiviral medication to help reduce the severity and duration of the infection.

In the meantime, the following can help a person ease any discomfort:

  • Taking a colloidal oatmeal bath in cool or lukewarm water or applying calamine lotion to soothe the skin.
  • Applying a clean, cool, damp washcloth or cool compress to ease pain and dry the blisters.
  • Keeping the area of skin clean to help prevent the blisters from becoming infected.
  • Avoiding scratching the blisters to reduce the risk of infection.

The AAD notes that a person can apply the damp washcloth for 5–10 minutes several times a day.

It also suggests the following steps to care for the blisters and rash:

  1. Washing the rash using a fragrance-free cleanser.
  2. Applying a layer of pure petroleum jelly.
  3. Covering the rash with a new, sterile, and nonstick bandage.
  4. Washing the hands after touching the rash to avoid spreading shingles to others.

A person should perform these steps every day until the rash clears.

Other ways for a person to cope with shingles include:

  • taking part in activities that distract the mind, such as reading, watching television, listening to music, or talking with friends and family
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • getting plenty of rest
  • eating well-balanced meals
  • avoiding stress, if possible
  • stretching or walking, if a doctor says it is OK to do so

The following section includes common questions about shingles blisters.

Is it safe to pop the blisters?

People should avoid popping or picking at the blisters. The NIA notes that people scratching them can increase the risk of infection and potentially leave a scar.

What should a person do if the blisters crack open?

It is a part of the typical healing process when the blisters crack open.

To lower the risk of infection, a person should ensure to keep the area clean and dry, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly, and cover the rash using a sterile, nonstick bandage. They should do this every day until the rash clears.

Covering the rash can also help to prevent transmitting the virus to others.

Shingles blisters can become infected, and the risk can increase if a person scratches the blisters.

Signs of an infected rash can include:

  • the presence of yellow or green fluid
  • swelling
  • pain
  • warmth

The symptoms of shingles can range from mild to severe. In addition to a rash, a person may also develop symptoms such as:

People should consult a doctor within 2–3 days after developing the rash. Beginning treatment within this time frame can help to:

  • reduce symptoms
  • shorten the duration of the infection
  • reduce the risk of complications

If people develop a shingles rash on the face, they should contact a doctor urgently. This is because shingles can affect the eye and result in vision loss.

People should also contact a doctor if the blisters show any signs of infection.

Shingles causes a blistering rash to appear on a small patch or stripe, often on one side of the body. The blisters are usually small and close together.

During the course of the infection, the blisters can break open, bleed, and crust over. They will fully resolve within 2–4 weeks.

To help ease the discomfort of the blisters, a person can take a colloidal oatmeal bath and apply calamine lotion to the skin.

They should also avoid scratching the blisters, keep the area of skin clean, and cover the rash with a sterile bandage. This helps to prevent infection and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

People should contact a doctor if they notice any signs of shingles or if the blisters become infected.