Shingles is an infection of the nerves and surrounding skin caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the herpes varicella-zoster virus. Shingles results in a rash that can be mildly itchy to intensely painful. The rash appears as raised dots that develop into blisters, then dry out and crust over.
Shingles affects people who've had chickenpox before when the dormant or inactive varicella-zoster virus becomes active again.
Shingles generally affects older people, but it can appear in younger people or in people with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
Symptoms of shingles include:
Pain or bruised feeling - usually on one side of your face or body - often along with a fever, chills, headache or upset stomach. People will often feel unwell for several days before the rash appears.
- Tingling, itching or prickling skin and an inflamed, red skin rash several days later
- A group or long strip of small, fluid-filled blisters
- Deep burning, searing, aching or stabbing pain, which may occur once in a while or last a long time
A complication of shingles for at least one in 10 people with the condition is postherpetic neuralgia. This severe nerve pain lasts for more than three months after the rash has cleared up.
Doctors don’t know why the shingles virus gets activated. As well as lowered immunity, becoming older increases the risk and suffering from stress may trigger a shingles outbreak.
Shingles pain affects the nerve ending and can be very painful. If the pain becomes too great to bear, a doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers or other treatments.
Is it shingles or something else?
Small blisters that appear only on the lips or around the mouth may be cold sores rather than shingles.
Itchy blisters that appear after gardening or spending time outdoors could be an allergic reaction to plants or trees. Seek medical advice if you are unsure.
Seek medical advice if
- You suspect an outbreak is beginning. If you take antiviral drugs in the early stages, you may shorten the course of the infection.
- Shingles on your face spreads near your eye, to avoid possible cornea damage.
- The affected area becomes secondarily infected with bacteria (indicated by spreading redness, swelling, a high fever or pus). Antibiotics can help halt the spread of bacterial infection but not the shingles itself.
- Your rash lasts longer than 10 days without improvement.