Skin Care Guide

Shingles Symptoms Causes and Treatment

herpes zoster rash

Common Progression of the Symptoms of Shingles

Before a person can fully comprehend the impact the symptoms of shingles can have on a person they must first understand exactly what shingles is. Shingles is a very painful rash that is the direct cause of a viral infection. Shingles most commonly appears as a series of blisters in a band like formation that spreads from the center of the back around to the side of the chest area all the way to the breastbone. Although this is the shape and pattern that shingles most commonly takes, it can also appear anywhere on a person’s body.

It has been determined by health care professionals that shingles is caused by the same virus that causes the occurrence of chickenpox. After a person has experienced chickenpox this virus lies dormant or sleeping in the tissues of the nerves which are located close to the brain and spinal cord. In later years this virus may become active again and lead to the presence of the symptoms of shingles.

Although shingles is not considered to be dangerous per se it is most often accompanied by severe pain. There are vaccines available that may reduce the risk of developing this infection as well as early treatments that can decrease the duration of the infection and thus lower the risk of complications.

In most cases the signs and symptoms of this condition are only present in a small area on one side of the body. It should be noted however that this is the most common course or patter it is also possible to develop this rash anywhere on the body.

Some of the most common symptoms that a person with shingles will develop include a rash that is red in color and starts within a few days after the pain is felt as this pain is often the first of the symptoms of shingles to manifest. In addition to this pain a person may also experience burning, tingling or numbness. This rash may lead to blisters filled with fluid that rupture and scab over and result in a relentless itch.

In addition to these common symptoms some less common occurrences may include general aches and pains, fever, chills, fatigue and headache. These symptoms however are much less common than the primary symptoms of this infection.

Pain is most often the first symptom to manifest in connection with shingles and in some cases this pain can be intense. How intense this pain becomes is largely dependent on the specific areas of the body that are affected. Also dependent on this is the fact that this pain when in certain areas can occasionally be mistaken for problems that may be associated with issues of the heart, kidneys or lungs. In a small percentage of individuals the pain of shingles never develops into a rash.

In the majority of cases when shingles is present it appears as a band like formation of blisters filled with fluid that spread from the spine to the breastbone on one side of the body. In a small number of individuals this rash can also develop near an eye or on either side of the face or neck but usually not both at once.

Shingles Symptoms: Virus reactivates

Shingles is caused when virus which causes chickenpox reactivates, that is it becomes active again after being in dormant stage.

Early symptoms of shingles:

  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Flu-like symptoms without a fever
  • Feel: itching, tingling burning, constant aching, or a deep, shooting,
  • Pain/ “lightning bolt” pain.
  • Rash.

Pain will be experienced where a band or strip like in a small area there will be development of rash, which may emerge after several days or even weeks after. A rash which will emerge can be seen anywhere on body but this rash will appear will be seen on only on left or right side of body that is only one side of body will experience the rash and pain.

Forming of rash: Rash will first be forming blisters and then scab over, and to finish clear up less than a few weeks. This occurring of band or strip of pain along with rash is clearest sign telling of shingles symptoms.


The rash which is because of shingles tends to be more painful and less itchy. The reason of rash developing only one side of the body that is on left or right is, that nerve roots supply us the sensation to our skin, which run in pathways on each of the side of our body. When the chickenpox virus happens to reactivate, virus travels up nerve roots to area of the skin that is supplied by those particular nerve roots. That is why rash wraps around either left or right side of the body. Rash is usually from middle of back which goes towards the chest. However rash can also appear on face, that is around any one side eye then you need to seek help immediately. Also occurring of rash, can happen in more then one area in the body, this is also possible.

Shingles symptoms develop in stages:

Prodromal stage that is before rash appears:

  • Feeling of pain, tickling, burning, tingling, or numbness occurs in area, that’s around affected nerves, this continues for several days or even weeks before a rash will appear.
  • The discomfort generally occurs on back or the chest, but these symptoms may also occur on belly, face, head, neck, or on one leg or arm.
  • Flu-like symptoms: these symptoms will be usually without fever, like chills, stomachache etc and also diarrhea may develop which will be before or at times along with starting of rash.
  • Tenderness and Swelling of lymph nodes may also occur.

Active stage which rash and blisters appears

  • With occurring of rash in form of band or strip in small area.
  • Appears anywhere on body but this will always be on only one side of body, that is right or left. Thereafter blisters will also form.
  • Fluid that’s inside blister initially it is clear
  • Later after 3 to 4 days the fluid may become cloudy.
  • A few people may not get rash, or their rash will be mild.
  • A rash can occur on: forehead, any one cheek, on nose, and at times around any one eye which is known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus, you seek medical intervention immediately as this may threaten eyesight unless you get timely treatment.
  • Experience pain, which will be like “piercing needles in the skin,” which will be accompanied with the skin rash.
  • Blisters can break open; fluid will ooze, and gradually crust over in some 5 days.
  • The rash generally heals in two to four weeks, though some scars can remain.

Postherpetic neuralgia which is of chronic pain stage:

Postherpetic neuralgia: one of most common complications of shingles. This can lasts at least for thirty days and may even continue for months to years.

Symptoms are:

  • Aching, stabbing pain, burning in area of earlier shingles’ rash.
  • Persistently experience of pain that can linger for years.
  • Excessive sensitivity to touch. The pain related with postherpetic neuralgia, commonly affects forehead or the chest. The pain can be severe and chronic that its may get difficult for person to sleep, eat and for performing various daily activities. Such is the symptoms that its may lead towards depression.

Shingles symptoms also get confused with different condition which causes similar symptoms of pain and rash like:

  • Herpes simplex infection
  • Appendicitis

Shingles contagious: Am I vulnerable?

If there is someone in your house who has been diagnosed with Shingles will you be contacting it? Is the disease Shingles contagious? Will I get shingles from the shingles affected patient in my home? What are the ways that I can get affected with Shingles? In my neighborhood there is a patient that has been diagnosed with Shingles should I be away from him? To know answers to these questions read on further to know better and solve all your queries.

Shingles is the painful condition, which is characterized by eruptions of blisters and the rashes developing on the skin. These conditions are caused by a virus named the varicella zoster virus. This virus is also responsible for the causing of the chickenpox amongst the people. After recovering from the chickenpox disease this virus then have a tendency to remain within one’s body for rest of their life. But in a case when there is adversity to the individual’s immunity, the person gets adversely affected which can result into development of the disease shingles. Therefore a person who already had chicken pox once in his life time does have the vulnerability to have greater risk for developing shingles.

Shingles disease is also considered as chickenpox disease is revisiting. When the person having the dormant varicella zoster virus is under going stress and even if his immunity is getting compromised then it can cause shingles disease to surface.

The symptoms that are associated with shingles disease include having fever and also persistent headache. Patients suffering because of shingles at times even experience decline in their energy levels along with problems in their digestive system has also been observed. Patients can also experience of sudden chills and there might be itching in the body. The shingles disease result in forming of blisters which are in band or belt like formations, which normally takes on the spine and spreads till the chest areas. This is easily helps the doctor to identify the shingles disease.

Now to answer all your queries regarding is shingles contagious or not?

Well Shingles is contagious but it’s better to understand this in this terms that shingles is not entirely or fully contagious that is you can catch just the chickenpox from a person who is affected with shingles, and that also can happen in only those case where a person has never has chickenpox before in his life. But answering to the big question again, you cannot contract shingles itself from the patient who has the shingles. The varicella zoster virus gets transmitted from one infected person to another through direct contacts with its wounds, rashes and blisters.

Its better to know that the shingles rash is remains to be contagious until all blisters have been scabbed and now are dry.

But note: Since most adults and even the older children have already had chickenpox, this gives them the immunity from contacting chickenpox through shingles. But if there are people who had never had chickenpox in their life and kids who are small and not developed chickenpox they are at greater risk and therefore have the vulnerability.

Also, if the blisters or vesicles or rashes are well covered with the dressing, then it’s unlikely for virus to pass on to others. This is because, as mentioned earlier the virus gets passed on by the direct contacts with blisters. Also, to play safe and better at not risking of passing on this virus to other people, for chances that they may not have had chickenpox, its better that patient doesn’t share his used towels, go to swimming, or play any contact sports like rugby even as you have shingles rash.

So if you are doing a job, then you can return back to working, when the blisters have dried up, or even earlier but you need to keep the rash covered and its important that you are feeling well enough and able to work.

Nevertheless, for pregnant women who don’t remember having chicken pox or have not had chickenpox must avoid patients with shingles. Also, if individual has poor immune system, then avoid people with the shingles.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles, which is also known as Zoster or Herpes Zoster is a sister disease of chicken pox and is far more painful and irritating in nature. In medical terms, it is a condition where big blisters develop on the skin, caused by a virus named Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). This virus is also responsible for causing chickenpox, which most of us suffer from in our childhood. There is a high risk that people who have suffered from chicken pox in their childhood are most likely to suffer from Shingles as well. However, the question that comes to the mind first happens to be: “Is Shingles contagious?” like chicken pox itself?

Before we can come to the answer of this question, we must first discuss the cause of this disease. People who have suffered from chicken pox have some remains of the VZV virus in their body for the rest of their lives. Shingles disease occurs when these VZV viruses find just the right conditions conducive for growing and resurfacing. This generally happens when a person has a very frail immunity system or is extremely stressed. Once it resurfaces, the pain is a lot more than that which is experienced in chicken pox, and often lingers even after the Shingles blisters are gone from the skin.

So, the question still remains: Is shingles contagious? Although it might seem so, as the VZV virus can spread on direct contact with a completely healthy person, the Shingles disease is not completely contagious. The following people are at risk from shingles disease:

  • A person who has already suffered from chicken pox previously in their life
  • People who are over the age of fifty years, as the immune system decreases as we age
  • All patients suffering from diseases which cause damage to the immune system to a serious degree, such as that which occurs with cancer and AIDS
  • Patients who have had to consume large doses of immunosuppressive drugs for various medical reasons

Now we are back to the question: “Is shingles contagious?” and we must consider different ways that contact may be made with a diseased person. If a healthy person is in indirect contact with a person affected by shingles, there is no way that the disease could spread to him because it is not an airborne infection. This includes the condition where the patient sneezes or coughs in front of the healthy person. The only situation where the shingles disease can be contagious is when the patient has developed blisters which are clearly in a fluid state and haven’t developed a crust on them yet. This is a highly dangerous state as the disease can spread very fast during that period through direct contact with the skin of another person. It is very important that physical contact with a person who has shingles be limited as much as possible. If it is necessary to touch the person such as to care for the person or other such related issues then you should take precautionary measures to protect yourself from developing this rash.

What is Shingles Rash?

The rashes of shingles are extremely painful as compared to the rashes that are caused by chicken pox. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused when the viruses of chicken pox revisits the body surface at a later age. Shingles rash generally affects a particular portion of the skin on one side of the body as opposed to big spots all over the body such as happens in the case of chicken pox. The shingles rash appears in rows, which resembles shingles on a roof, thus justifying its name.

The path of a rash caused by shingles is a clear indication of the dangerous and painful effects of it. They generally follow the path of a few particular nerves in the body, which generally are in regions like the neck, buttocks, scalp or the trunk. However, it stops suddenly at the midline.

These rashes are common in men and women who are above 50 years of age. More than two-thirds of cases happen to old people, as because the immunity is extremely weak and damaged at that time. In most cases, the shingles rash occurs only once, but is has also been heard that frequent repeated bouts of such rashes have also occurred in some patients. More painfully, the repeated blisters occur at the same places!

The effects of shingles rash are the most painful when it happens of the face. This is because shingles on the face directly affects the eye and the nose. When the cornea of the eye is affected, it is known as the zoster keratitis, which is extremely dangerous. This disease must be treated immediately or else it could damage the cornea and eventually lead to complete blindness. The chances of shingles affecting the eye are the highest when the shingles rash is in the upper portion of the face or a very tingling sensation at the nose tip. This situation must be promptly dealt with by visiting a doctor immediately.

The after effects of the rashes caused by shingles are not only very painful but can be long lasting as well. The patients of shingles continue to experience the pain in places where the rash existed, even after the mark of the rash disappears. This is more likely to happen when the shingles follows the path of the trigeminal nerve, which covers the face, including the nose and the eyes. The sites of shingles rash can be the center of more irritation with the advancement of age and it could lead to loss of vision as well.

If you suspect that you have developed a shingles rash you should seek medical attention for proper diagnosis. The longer shingles is left untreated the worse the resulting rash will be become. In some cases the effects of shingles can lead to permanent damage especially when the face is affected. Proper medical treatment can prevent this from happening in most cases.

Shingles Treatment: Treating the shingles rash

Shingles is when the dormant lying virus which causes chickenpox, feels like making some havoc in human body again. And there in it causes a disease called shingles which causes a blister or rash at only one side of the body that is either left or right. Usually it happens on the back, or behind the leg and on buttock, ouch! Isn’t it.

Well to be very specifically clear and precise in answering about shingles is there is no cure. But shingles treatment can shorten length of shingles illness and prevent any further complications. Shingles Treatment includes:

  • Antiviral medicines
  • Reduce pain and duration of illness of shingles.
  • Pain medicines
  • Antidepressants
  • Topical creams
  • Relieves long-term pains

Initial Shingles Treatment

Once you are diagnosed with shingles, your physician will probably start treatment beginning with antiviral medicines. Diagnosing of any illness in initial stage plays a crucial role, in the case of shingles too, if shingles treatment begins with medicines within first two days of as soon as you see shingles rash, then it lowers the chance of having any kind of problems such as the postherpetic neuralgia later. Early shingles treatment is important, not only for treating shingles, rather because problems that may arise, because delay can be serious and also lead resistant to shingles treatment. The study conducted has reported that 40%-50% of people having postherpetic neuralgia don’t respond to shingles treatment.

Most Common Treatments for Shingles include:

  • Antiviral medicines: Acyclovir/ famciclovir/valacyclovir, this helps in reducing pain and also illness duration of shingles.
  • Over-the-counter pain relief medicines: Acetaminophen/ aspirin/ibuprofen, helps in reducing pain during an attack of the shingles.
  • Topical antibiotics creams: That’s applied directly on to the skin, it stops infections because of the blisters.
  • Corticosteroids: These may be used for reducing pain in people only who are younger than 50 years and who have recent outbreak of the shingles.

Ongoing Shingles Treatment: Postherpetic Neuralgia

If your pain is persisting longer, that is more than a month, even after the shingles rash has healed, then you may be diagnoses as having postherpetic neuralgia, which is one of the most common complications of the shingles.

Postherpetic neuralgia: causes pains from months and it can go on for years. Statistics have shown that postherpetic neuralgia is known to affect 10%-15% of those people who experiences shingles.

Treatment for reducing pain of the postherpetic neuralgia includes:

  • Antidepressant medicines: Tricyclic antidepressant is prescribed such as amitriptyline.
  • Topical anesthetics: Such as the lidocaine patches, it helps in numbing the area.
  • Anticonvulsant medicines: Such as pregabalin or gabapentin
  • Opioids: Codeine
  • Topical creams: That cream, which contains capsaicin, can provide some relief from the pain. Though capsaicin can even irritate and burn the skin of some the people and therefore cream should be used when prescribed with caution only.

Treatment if the condition gets worse

Other then Postherpetic neuralgia, there are some cases of shingles, which have caused some long-term complications.

Treatment of such complications depends on what is the specific complication and accordingly the treatment is given:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia: There is persisting pain which can lasts months and to even years after shingles rash has healed. Certain medication of anticonvulsants, or antidepressants, or of opioids, helps in relieving the pain. Most cases of the postherpetic neuralgia are known to resolve within a year. But in some very rare cases, surgical treatment can be used for treating postherpetic neuralgia, in which through surgery, doctor will be those cutting nerves so that it helps in blocking the pain signals.
  • Disseminated zoster: Blistery rashes over large portions of your body. It may even affect heart, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestinal tract and joints. Treatment for this includes both the antiviral medicines for preventing virus from any multiplying and antibiotics for stopping infection.
  • Herpes zoster ophthalmicus: A rash on forehead, one of the cheeks, on nose, and around one of the eye, which can be threatening to your sight. If such symptom happens, seek promptly the treatment from an ophthalmologist for this condition of symptom. Treatment generally includes cool compresses, antiviral medicines and you need to tale rest also.
  • Shingles virus affecting nerves: If shingles virus affects any of the nerves which are originating in the brain that is to the cranial nerves, it can result in serious complications which involve face, the eyes, nose, and even the brain can develop complications. Treatment for this depends upon the nature and even on the location of complication.

    Shingles vaccine: Frequently asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Is there any vaccine for prevention of shingles?

  • Yes. Zostavax is the vaccine that is to be used for people who are 60 years old and older then, for preventing shingles. Only to be taken once. But remember Zostavax does not treat shingles once it develops and post-herpetic neuralgia that is the pain after rash has gone.

Is this vaccine for treating shingles safe?

  • The FDA has given this vaccine licensed as safe. The vaccine had been tested in more then 20,000 people, who were aged 60 years old or older. The vaccine can cause to some people some common side effects such as soreness, redness, itching or swelling at the shot site, and bit of headache.

How effective is the shingles vaccine?

  • The clinical trials that were conducted involved thousands of 60 years old or older, after getting vaccinated with Zostavax, studies showed that risk of shingles was reduced to more then half that is 51% and even risk of post-herpetic neuralgia got reduced by 67%.

How long does vaccine for shingles last?

  • Research and studies have shown that vaccine for shingles is known to be effective at least for six years, but reports have shown that it may last also much longer. Rather new studies are ongoing which are conducted in order for determining exactly as how long vaccine is able to protect against shingles.

Who must NOT get vaccines for shingles?

  • There are some people who must not get vaccines for shingles:
    • People having life-threatening allergic reactions to the gelatin and even to the antibiotic of neomycin.
    • People who are known to have severe allergies to any components of vaccine.
    • People whose immune system is weakened due to leukemia, or lymphoma, or any blood cancer or bone cancer.
    • People who are already infected with HIV/AIDS and their T-cell counts is below 200.
    • People who are under treatment which includes drugs which is known to affect immune system, like including of high-dose steroids.
    • Women who are pregnant.

Can shingles vaccine be injected to those people who once already have shingles?

  • Yes. People who have already had shingles can also receive shingles vaccine which will prevent any future occurrences of shingles disease.

How long should person wait receive shingles vaccine after having the shingles?

  • As such there is no specific time that person should wait before receiving vaccine for vaccine. The decision on when to receive vaccine must be made with consultation with your physician. Generally, it is suggested that person must make sure that shingles rash has rather disappeared before taking of vaccination.

Why is shingles vaccine only been recommended for adults of 60 years and older?

  • A person’s risk for reawakening of chicken pox virus that is shingles, rise around the age of 50. Nonetheless, shingles vaccine that is Zostavax is recommended for people of 60 years and older because effects and safety of shingles vaccine were only studied on this age group, because this age group accounts for half of all the cases of shingles occurring every year in United States.

Is it ‘worth it’ for older people to get the vaccine?

  • Yes. As the person gets older, the chances of getting shingles also increases but moreover at this age shingles effects are known to be more severe, so it is rather suggested that all adults of age 60 years old and older must get shingles vaccine. And there is as such no limit of maximum of age for getting vaccine for shingles.

Does shingles vaccine that protects from herpes zoster, also protect from genital herpes?

  • No. The shingles vaccine is purposely intended for protecting people against herpes zoster that is another name for the shingles disease. Shingles vaccine cannot protect people against any other forms of the herpes, like genital herpes.
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Rao Shab
Hey there! I am Vikas Yadav and welcome to my blog Guide India, where you will see the different aspects of our lives through my thoughts on various subjects. Feel free to explore as much as you like.

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