An early shingles rash may appear as flat areas of discolored skin. Symptoms typically change depending on the stage of shingles. The rash can include blistering and scabbing.
The rash typically only affects one side of the body. A person may experience symptoms before the rash appears.
After someone has had chickenpox, the virus remains in the body in a dormant (inactive) state. Sometimes, the virus can reactivate, leading to shingles. It is a painful rash, typically occurring on one side of the body.
This article explains shingles and outlines the first symptoms people may experience. It also answers some frequently asked questions about the condition.
The symptoms of shingles tend to come in stages.
Atypical skin sensations
People may also experience:
Doctors may call this the preeruptive stage of shingles.
Learn more about the early signs and symptoms of shingles.
The rash appears differently on darker skin tones than on lighter skin tones. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, the rash can often be red, but it can be harder to see on darker skin tones.
When the rash does appear, it may show as macules and eventually become vesicles. Macules are flat, discolored areas of skin that can resemble a burn. They may appear differently depending on a person’s skin tone.
Early macule rash
A shingles rash
Next, the macules will turn into vesicles, or small, fluid-filled blisters that can be painful. Vesicles can also appear differently depending on a person’s skin tone.
Eventually, the blisters rupture, scab over, and dry out. During this process, the blisters may flatten and change color.
Doctors call the macule and the vesicle rash the acute eruptive stage of shingles. This stage typically lasts around
This is when shingles is most contagious. The virus can transmit from one person to another through contact with the fluid contained in the rash.
People may still experience pain after the rash has resolved. The pain can feel similar to:
- a burning or prickling sensation on the skin
- a shock-like sensation on the skin
Doctors call this the chronic infection stage of shingles. Sometimes, it can last
Shingles is a contagious condition. People
- covering blisters
- avoiding skin-to-skin contact with others
- avoiding touching the rash whenever possible
- washing their hands frequently and thoroughly
A person should avoid contact with people at high risk of developing shingles. These include:
The following section answers common questions about shingles:
How long do shingles symptoms last?
Typically, most symptoms of a shingles rash last between
After the rash disappears, some people can still experience long-term pain. They may also develop a condition called postherpetic neuralgia.
Learn more about the after-effects of shingles.
What causes shingles to suddenly appear?
The herpes zoster virus (HZV) causes shingles. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant or inactive state. Sometimes, the virus can reactivate, leading to shingles.
- certain medications, such as immunosuppressants
- reexposure to the virus
Sometimes, cancer can reactivate HZV.
How do doctors treat the symptoms of shingles?
These drugs are most effective if people take them as soon as the rash appears.
Learn about home remedies for shingles.
Shingles causes a painful rash that typically affects one side of the body. Before the rash appears, a person may first experience pain, tingling, or itching on the skin.
A rash of macules may then appear. Over time, the macules will turn into painful blisters that rupture, scab over, and dry out.
People may experience pain and other symptoms for up to 12 months after the rash disappears.