Shingles - Symptoms 

Symptoms of shingles 

The shingles rash appears on one side of the body on the area of skin related to the affected nerve 

Ophthalmic shingles

Ophthalmic shingles affects part of the trigeminal nerve, which is a nerve that controls sensation and movement in your face. Symptoms include:

  • a rash over your forehead, nose and around your eye
  • headache 
  • conjunctivitis - inflammation of your eye that causes it to become red and watery with a sticky coating on your eyelashes
  • keratitis - inflammation of your cornea (the clear layer at the front of your eye)
  • iritis - inflammation of the iris (the coloured part of your eye)
  • loss of movement of your eye
  • drooping eyelid (ptosis)

An episode of shingles usually lasts two to four weeks. The first sign of the condition is a tingling sensation in the affected area, followed by pain and then a rash.

Any part of your body can be affected, although the chest and abdomen (tummy) are the most common areas.You may also:

  • experience pain in your arms and legs
  • find that the nerves in the upper half of your face (including your eyes) are affected
  • feel exhausted

Early symptoms

Shingles may cause some early (prodromal) symptoms that last for one to four days before the rash first appears. These early symptoms can include:

  • myalgia (muscle pain)
  • burning, tingling, numbness or itchiness of the skin in the affected area
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over, though this unusual
  • a feeling of being generally unwell

Not everyone will experience these prodromal symptoms. In particular, a high temperature is uncommon.

Pain

Along with the early symptoms above, people with shingles experience a localised ‘band’ of pain in the affected area.

The pain can be a constant, dull or burning sensation and its intensity can vary from mild to severe. You may have sharp stabbing pains from time to time and the affected area of skin will usually be tender.

Pain is less common in young, healthy people and is rare in children. It can last for more than a week before the rash begins.

Rash

The shingles rash usually follows several days after the start of the pain. The rash appears on one side of your body and develops on the area of skin related to the affected nerve.

Initially, the shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, before quickly developing into itchy blisters similar in appearance to chickenpox. New blisters may appear for up to a week, but about three days after appearing they become yellowish in colour, flatten and dry out.

Finally, scabs form where the blisters were, which may leave some slight scarring. It usually takes two to four weeks for the rash to heal completely.

Seek medical attention

The symptoms of shingles are often mild. However, see your GP as soon as possible if you recognise the symptoms. Early treatment may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and the risk of developing complications.

Seek immediate medical treatment if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • severe headache
  • symptoms that affect your eye area
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over

See your GP if you develop symptoms of shingles and are pregnant or have a weakened immune system (the body’s natural defence system).




Page last reviewed: 21/06/2012

Next review due: 21/06/2014

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Comments

The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

DeeDee0586 said on 04 February 2014

I'm in my late 20s and I've had shingles twice now.... However a rash is starting to form in the same exact location on my arm for the third time, so as I'm typing this I believe I have shingles again.

It's very frustrating when all information is directed at older people. It would be very helpful if I could find more information as to why young people without Aids/HIV or apparently a weak immune system has shingles?
As I would fall into this category.

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Diandra said on 07 December 2013

Re :" is it a recurring problem?" (Ed Binks). Yes, it can be.
I have seen it stated quite frequently on the internet that you can only have shingles once. That's a fallacy. You can certainly have it more than once, although you won't necessarily have it more than once or at all. I have had three bouts over the years - I'm currently on my third one. From my own experience I think that an episode of shingles may have something to do with being run down and stressed, perhaps this increases a person's susceptibility. The doctor can provide anti virals if appropriate.

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aesop said on 20 March 2013

@ldgruer You are reading the Symptoms page, if you click on either Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment or Complications you will find out further information.

I had it, and I am in my 20's with no apparent health issues, initially I thought it was insect bites but it gradually got worse so I saw the doctor and he told me the following,

'If you have shingles you cannot give anyone else shingles.

You can only give someone chicken pox who has never had chicken pox before.

It's only infectious for the first few days, and if you keep it covered up with clothing it should be fine, just don't share towels with people.'

All the pictures I have seen look very bad maybe one hundred red spots, I only had about twenty spots and I found it very uncomfortable.

It feels like someone has jabbed you with a needle in the same spot over and over, the skin is very sensitive, and painful. Sharp bouts of pain also comes and goes randomly.

I have also been swearing a lot more frequently.

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ldgruer said on 06 March 2013

It would be helpful to know whether or not someone with shingles is infectious and if so for how long and whether they should take precautions eg by avoiding contact with pregnant women or the new born.

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Ed Binks said on 23 May 2011

Photos of Shingles would be an advantage

What brings about shingles and is it a reocuring problem

What is the usual treatment ?

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