Shingles Symptoms and Signs

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Shingles or herpes zoster is caused by the varicella-zoster virus which is also responsible for causing chickenpox. Once a person suffers from chickenpox infection, the varicella-zoster virus remains in the nervous system for years and reactivates as shingles. This virus infection causes red skin rash resulting in a burning sensation and pain. Blisters can appear on the neck, torso, or face. 

Mostly shingles go within a few weeks. Studies suggest that shingles can appear more than once in a person. Estimates suggest that nearly one in three people in the U.S. have shingles.

People who had chickenpox at any stage of life can develop this condition. After the age of 50 it is most common however, they can appear anytime if a person had chickenpox earlier in life. 

What Causes Shingles?

A person who had chickenpox at any point in life can be affected by Shingles when the virus reactivates in the body. Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus i.e. varicella-zoster. It is common in older people because they have low immunity. Common risk factors for shingles are emotional stress, a weak immune system, and aging. 

Symptoms of Shingles

According to studies, the initial symptom of shingles includes a burning sensation and pain. The problem happens on one side of the body and in some skin areas, a red rash appears.

A rash may be red or dark brown, dark pink, or purple depending on skin tone. Symptoms can appear in the abdomen, chest, back, face, ears, or mouth. Internal organs can also be affected.

Sensory nerve ganglion present near the spinal cord is affected by shingles. This is a reason symptoms appear in only specific body areas while nerve involvement causes pain. Depending on the body, symptoms can vary.

Some people suffer from pain without rash while some experience pain with rash including other symptoms like headache, fever, or chills.

Common Shingles Symptoms

Common Shingles Symptoms

The most common symptoms include:

  • Burning pain that can be dull or sharp. It comes and goes periodically. 
  • Skin rash similar to chickenpox appears in certain areas.
  • Rash and fluid-filled blisters

Shingles on Different Body Parts

Shingles can appear on one side of your face, chest, or back. Rash near or inside the ear can lead to infection resulting in hearing loss, balance issues, and facial muscle weakness.

When inside the mouth, it can be painful causing difficulty in eating and adversely hampering the sense of taste. Rash on the scalp can be painful when you brush or comb hair. Sometimes it can lead to bald patches permanently. 

Shingles can appear inside or around the eye and are known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus or ophthalmic herpes zoster. Rash with blisters may appear on the forehead, eyelids, or side or nose tip. Symptoms include throbbing or burning in the eyes, tearing and redness, swelling, or blurred vision.

A rash may disappear but you experience pain in the eyes which is due to a damaged nerve. This pain goes off with time. Shingles in the eye can cause serious issues and if left untreated, permanent scarring or long-term vision loss can happen.

Rashes can appear on the buttocks, especially on one side. Shingles on the buttocks can be itchy causing pain and later developing red rash or blisters. It is possible that a person experience pain but no rash. 

Shingles rashes are present on one side but a stripe of blisters may develop. The conditions cause a painful rash that disappears after some days. Acute pain can lead to discomfort and doctors prescribe anti-inflammatory or anti-viral medicines for relief. 

Also Read: 10 Common Lupus Symptoms

Who are at the Potential Risk?

People who had chickenpox are more prone to Shingles. Some factors that increase the risk of developing the condition are a Weak immune system, people suffering from cancer or HIV, age over 60 years, having radiation treatment or chemotherapy, intake of medications that weaken the immune system, and having shingles earlier.

What are Shingles Complications?

Shingles can be painful so it is necessary to monitor symptoms carefully to avoid complications. Many problems may arise later like:

  • Skin infections due to bacteria that occur because of open blisters. It can be severe. 
  • Rash or blister near the eye can lead to eye damage, particularly cornea. 
  • Possibility of Pneumonia
  • Spinal cord or brain inflammation can be complicated or life-threatening.
  • Shingles that affect the head nerve can lead to Ramsay Hunt Syndrome or partial facial paralysis. Hearing loss can happen if left untreated. Initial treatment can help in full recovery.

How long do Shingles take to Disappear Entirely?

Usually, three to five weeks are required. A person may experience symptoms until there is a rash on the body. Initially, a person can feel pain in the skin before the rash appears.

This pain can be burning or itching. Once the rash appears it looks like a patch or band. The rash appears on one side of the body, especially on the face, trunk, neck, or waistline. 

The back, chest, and abdomen are also prone areas while it can appear in the legs and arms too. A rash can be fluid-filled, open blisters, and red. These blisters dry out within ten days and the crust on them takes nearly three weeks to clear.

How long a person is contagious?

A person is contagious till the rash disappears and the crust cleans up. Varicella-zoster virus can affect a person who never had chickenpox earlier in life or has not been vaccinated against chickenpox.


Chickenpox can lead to shingles but you cannot this condition if you never had chickenpox. Moreover, a person can get chickenpox from anyone who has suffered from shingles. A blister-like rash is contagious and when anyone gets in direct contact, the varicella-zoster virus can infect and cause chickenpox. 

Shingles can develop at any time if a person had chickenpox because the varicella-zoster virus never goes completely from the body. This virus remains inactive in the nerve tissue. Once this virus becomes active shingles can appear.

Charles Lewis
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