Shingles

Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. See a GP as soon as possible if you think you have it.

Check if you have shingles

The first signs of shingles can be:

  • a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin
  • a headache or feeling generally unwell

A rash will appear a few days later.

Usually you get shingles on your chest and tummy, but it can appear on your face, eyes and genitals.

See a GP as soon as you suspect shingles

They can prescribe medicine to help speed up your recovery and avoid longer-lasting problems.

These work best if taken within 3 days of your symptoms starting.

If you can't see a GP, call 111 for advice about what to do.

How to treat shingles symptoms yourself

Do

  • take paracetamol to ease pain
  • keep the rash clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection
  • wear loose-fitting clothing
  • use a cool compress (a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or a wet cloth) a few times a day

Don't

  • let dressings or plasters stick to the rash
  • use antibiotic cream – this slows healing

How long shingles lasts

It can take up to 4 weeks for the rash to heal.

Your skin can be painful for weeks after the rash has gone, but it usually settles over time.

Stay away from certain groups of people if you have shingles

You can't spread shingles to others. But people who haven't had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from you.

This is because shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus.

Try to avoid:

  • pregnant women who have not had chickenpox before
  • people with a weakened immune system – like someone having chemotherapy
  • babies less than 1 month old – unless it's your own baby, as they should be protected from the virus by your immune system

Important

Stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and can't be covered – or until the rash has dried out.

You're only infectious to others while the rash oozes fluid.

You can cover the rash with loose clothing or a non-sticky dressing.

Shingles and pregnancy

If you're pregnant and get shingles, there's no danger to your pregnancy or baby.

But your GP should refer you to a specialist, as you may need antiviral treatment.

What are the risks of shingles during pregnancy?

You can't get shingles from someone with chickenpox

You can't get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox.

But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven't had chickenpox before.

When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body. It can be reactivated later and cause shingles if someone's immune system is lowered.

This can be because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments like chemotherapy.

Shingles vaccination

A shingles vaccine is available on the NHS for people in their 70s. It helps reduce your risk of getting shingles.

If you get shingles after being vaccinated, the symptoms can be much milder.

Ask your GP surgery if you can get the vaccine on the NHS.

Find out more about who can have the shingles vaccine.

Page last reviewed: 27/02/2018
Next review due: 27/02/2021

Call 111

If you can't speak to your GP and don't know what to do next.