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Shingles

Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. Get advice from 111 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 the shingles rash on your chest and tummy, but it can appear anywhere on your body including on your face, eyes and genitals.

The rash appears as blotches on your skin, on 1 side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles.

Shingles rash shown on white skin. Close up of patches of red blisters oozing fluid. The skin around the blisters is pink.
The blotches become itchy blisters that ooze fluid. A few days later, the blisters dry out and scab.
Shingles rash shown on medium brown skin. Pink rash with brown blisters on one side of a person’s lower back.
The rash can be red, but this can be harder to see on brown and black skin.
Shingles rash shown on dark brown skin. Blisters are grey and in a cluster on 1 side of a person’s chest.
The rash can form a cluster that only appears on 1 side of your body. The skin remains painful until after the rash has gone.
Shingles shown on white skin. Close up of a person’s face with a red, swollen eyelid and a red rash on surrounding skin.
The rash may be in and around your eye, making it sore and red. It can affect your sight or hearing and make it hard to move 1 side of your face.

Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 as soon as you suspect shingles

You might need medicine to help speed up your recovery and avoid longer-lasting problems.

This works best if taken within 3 days of your symptoms starting.

111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Other ways to get help

Get an urgent GP appointment

A GP may be able to treat you.

Ask your GP surgery for an urgent appointment.

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

  • do not let dressings or plasters stick to the rash

  • do not 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 gets better over time.

Stay away from certain groups of people if you have shingles

You cannot spread shingles to others. But people who have not had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from you.

This is because shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus.

Try to avoid:

  • pregnant people who have not had chickenpox before
  • people with a weakened immune system – like someone having chemotherapy
  • babies less than 1 month old – unless you gave birth to them, as your baby should be protected from the virus by your immune system

Work and school

Stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out.

You can only spread the infection to other people 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 you should be referred to a specialist, as you may need antiviral treatment.

You cannot get shingles from someone with chickenpox

You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox.

But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not 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: 01 July 2021
Next review due: 01 July 2024