Shingles - Diagnosis 

Diagnosing shingles 

Your GP can diagnose shingles from your symptoms and the appearance of your rash. Testing is not usually necessary.


It is rare for shingles to need referral, unless you have ophthalmic shingles (see below).

However, if your GP feels that you are at risk of developing complications, you may be referred to a specialist. Who you are referred to will depend on your circumstances, but it could be:

  • a paediatrician, who specialises in the care of babies and children (if your child has shingles, although this is not always necessary)
  • an ophthalmologist (see below), if shingles is affecting your eyes
  • your own consultant (a specialist in a particular area of medicine) if you have one for an existing medical condition, for example a consultant in infectious conditions if you have HIV or AIDS

If you have a weakened immune system (the body’s natural defence system), you may need to be referred to a specialist so your condition can be closely monitored. This is because you are at greater risk of developing complications. A referral is not always necessary and will depend on your circumstances.

You may have a weakened immune system if you:

  • have had chemotherapy or radiotherapy (treatments for cancer) in the last six months
  • have HIV or AIDS
  • have received a bone marrow transplant (bone marrow is the spongy material found in the hollow centre of some bones)
  • have received an organ transplant and are taking immunosuppressant medication (medication that prevents your immune system from working properly)
  • are taking certain medication, particularly some corticosteroids (medication that contains steroids) or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, DMARDs, which are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis

You may also be referred to a specialist if:

  • your pain or rash is not responding to medication
  • the nerves involved are affecting your ability to move or to control your bowel or bladder
  • you have any signs of the complications of shingles

Children may be referred if their rash is extensive (covers most of their body) or if they are particularly unwell.

Ophthalmic shingles

If your GP suspects your eyes are affected by shingles (opthalmic shingles) you may be referred to an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specialises in treating eye conditions).

Signs that your eyes may be affected include:

  • vision problems
  • unexplained redness of your eye

If you have eye problems caused by shingles, it is very important to see an ophthalmologist. This is because you are at risk of losing some of your vision if ophthalmic shingles is not treated.

Read about the symptoms of shingles for more information on ophthalmic shingles.

Page last reviewed: 21/06/2012

Next review due: 21/06/2014


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