Symptoms of Shingles

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Shingles rash

Did you ever have chickenpox? Then you need to know the symptoms of shingles. Anyone who's had chickenpox has about a 20% chance of getting shingles. The varicella-zoster virus causes both diseases. After you have chickenpox, the virus lives on in your nerve cells. If the virus becomes active again, you get shingles. 

Even though the same virus causes both conditions, the symptoms are very different. Chickenpox causes an itchy rash that covers your whole body. Shingles causes a painful rash that covers a smaller area on just one side of your body. The rash may appear on your trunk, neck or face. It’s important to know the symptoms of shingles because treatment works best if it's started within three days of getting the rash. And early treatment could save you a lot of misery. For some people, the pain that follows the rash can be very severe and last for months. 

Here is what you need to know.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Shingles symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people have a severe case with all the symptoms. Others have a mild case with just a few symptoms. Shingles often develops in this way: 

  • You may get early warning symptoms about three days before you get the rash. These include numbness, tingling, and burning pain.

  • The rash breaks out in the same area where you had the warning symptoms.

  • The rash lasts 3 to 5 weeks. Blisters will form and gradually turn yellow, burst, and crust over before healing.

  • While you have the rash, you may feel severe throbbing or burning pain.

  • You also might have flu-like symptoms while you have the rash.

If you get shingles on your face, it could involve the nerves of your face, eye or ear. Symptoms can include facial weakness, vision loss, and hearing loss. In some cases, facial paralysis develops. See your doctor right away for any warning signs of shingles.

Pain After the Rash

Pain usually fades with the rash. When pain continues after the rash is gone, it's called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This pain can be severe enough to cause depression, anxiety, and weight loss. It also can last for three months or more. 

You have about a 5% chance of developing PHN if you get shingles when you are younger than 60. About 20% of people 80 and older get PHN after shingles. Getting the shingles vaccine can help prevent PHN. It lowers your risk by more than 60%. There are drugs that can shorten the course of shingles and reduce the chance of PHN if they are started early.

Who Gets Shingles?

Anyone who's had chickenpox could get shingles. Shingles is rare in people younger than 50. However, people who have a condition that weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections are more likely to get shingles. These conditions include:

You can’t catch shingles from someone else if you already had chickenpox. If you have not had chickenpox, the shingles virus can get into your system if you come in contact with an open blister on someone with active shingles. The virus would then cause chickenpox, not shingles. Once you have had shingles, there is only a slight chance it can come back again. Getting the shingles vaccine makes you about half as likely to get shingles as people who aren't vaccinated. The shingles vaccine is recommended for anyone older than 60.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Shingles. American Academy of Dermatology. www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/q---t/shingles/signs-symptoms.

  2. Shingles. National Institute on Aging, Mar 2014. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/shingles.

  3. Should You Get the Shingles Vaccine? Harvard Medical School, Oct 2008. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2008/October/Should_you_get_the_shin....