Shingles

Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. You should see a GP if you think you have shingles.

Check if you have shingles

The first sign 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.

Speak to a GP as soon as you suspect shingles

A GP can prescribe medicine to speed up your recovery.

How to treat shingles yourself

Do

  • use paracetamol to ease shingles pain
  • keep the rash clean and dry to reduce risk of infection
  • wear loose-fitting clothing
  • use cooling creams and gels from your pharmacy
  • 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. The 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

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

Stay off work or school until the rash scabs.

Shingles is contagious only while the rash oozes fluid.

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.

Shingles and eyes

Shingles can sometimes affect your eye – known as ophthalmic shingles. Symptoms can include:

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

If you think you have ophthalmic shingles, see a GP immediately.

You can't get shingles from chickenpox

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

However, 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. And if you do get shingles after vaccination, the symptoms can be much milder.

Speak to your GP practice to see if you are eligible for the vaccine.

Find out more about who can have the shingles vaccine.

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

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