Shingles - Symptoms 

Symptoms of shingles 

The shingles rash usually affects a specific area on one side of the body 

Ophthalmic shingles

Some cases of shingles can affect one of the eyes and are known as ophthalmic shingles. This occurs when the virus is reactivated in part of the trigeminal nerve, a nerve that controls sensation and movement in your face.

Symptoms can include:

  • a rash over your forehead, nose and around your eye
  • conjunctivitis – inflammation of your eye that causes it to become red and watery with a sticky coating on your eyelashes
  • red eye
  • problems with your vision

An episode of shingles typically lasts around two to four weeks. The main symptoms are pain, followed by a rash.

Any part of your body can be affected, including your face and eyes, although the chest and abdomen (tummy) are the most common areas where shingles develops.

Early symptoms

In some cases, shingles may cause some early (prodromal) symptoms that develop a few days before the painful rash first appears. These early symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • burning, tingling, numbness or itchiness of the skin in the affected area
  • a feeling of being generally unwell
  • a high temperature (fever)

Not everyone will experience these prodromal symptoms. A high temperature is particularly uncommon.


Eventually, most 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 usually starts a few days before the rash appears and can remain for a few days or weeks after the rash has healed.


The shingles rash usually 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 developing into itchy blisters similar in appearance to chickenpox.

New blisters may appear for up to a week, but a few days after appearing they become yellowish in colour, flatten and dry out.

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

When to seek medical advice

Shingles is not usually serious, but you should 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.

You should also see your GP if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system (the body's natural defence system) and you think you have been exposed to someone with chickenpox or shingles and haven't had chickenpox before.

Page last reviewed: 25/06/2014

Next review due: 25/06/2016


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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

rizzmanning said on 21 September 2014

I am 20. And I am suffering from shingles for the 3rd time in under a year. Why is this info mainly aimed at older people? I haven't been to the doctors with it because it hasn't effected me too badly. First 2 times I had it was on my left leg. It was just annoying and itchy. This time... My god!!!! I feel as if I am dying. It is the tiniest patch ever on my left arm but man I feel like death warmed up because of it. Maybe there should be more on shingles and people with over active immune systems.. Seeing as shingles seems to effect people like me with lupus alot.

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grocock1 said on 13 August 2014

i have got shingles very bad this is the forth time i had them i had the injection last year what a wast of time its worst this time been to doctors he as given me tablets for it

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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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