Shingles Symptoms, Timeline & Treatment
Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is a viral infection caused by the chickenpox virus that affects a nerve and the surrounding skin, resulting in a rash that rapidly becomes painful and creates itchy blisters.
It’s only possible to get shingles if you have already suffered from chickenpox. After the initial infection, the virus remains in the nerves, resulting in shingles when it re-awakens in one particular nerve. This can happen years or even decades after the original chickenpox infection.
Triggers for shingles
Although it’s not clear why the virus re-awakens in this way, it tends to happen in people with a weakened immune system. While there’s no cure for shingles, there are several treatments available that can help make the symptoms it causes easier to cope with.
If you think you might have shingles, you should consult a GP as soon as possible. Our doctors can diagnose your condition, provide advice and if necessary, prescribe medication to help you reduce the intensity of your symptoms.
Each incident of shingles can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month or so and can be extremely uncomfortable - causing pain and itching.
Shingles tends to develop in the chest or stomach area, but it can affect any part of your body, including your face and even your eyes.
In some cases, you may experience several symptoms before a rash appears, including:
- A high temperature
- Feeling generally run down
- Numbness or tingling in the affected area
Symptoms of Shingles when a rash has formed include:
- An inflamed red rash with tingling or prickling skin.
- Fluid-filled blisters in groups or long striped patterns.
- Stabbing pains and aches which could last a long time.
- 1 in 10 people may get post-herpetic neuralgia, which is a serve nerve pain that could last 3 months after the rash has cleared up.
Shingles isn’t usually serious, but can result in complications if it crops up in the eye area and can sometimes lead to a condition called postherpetic neuralgia, where nerve pain in the affected area will last for months and in rare cases, more than a year.
If you’re concerned about potential complications, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a GP.
As mentioned, shingles can take hold years or even decades after an original chickenpox infection. While you’re most likely to get chickenpox in early childhood, it’s highly contagious and can affect anyone who’s not had it before.
Stage two: Reactivation
Shingles is in danger of cropping up any time your immune system is weakened, it’s particularly common among the elderly and people suffering from conditions like HIV and AIDs.
As it awakens, you may experience several symptoms, like headaches, high temperatures and a feeling of tiredness or being generally unwell. Some people will also get tingling, burning or loss of sensation in the affected area.
Stage three: Rash
During this stage, the rash will show up and blisters may begin to develop. You’ll start experiencing pain and itching in the affected area, although you may be able to ease this by wearing loose-fitting clothing and keeping the area clean and dry.
The blisters tend to burst open and crust over within a couple of weeks and the rash should start to clear up on its own. However, you can decrease the intensity of your symptoms by using anti-viral medication.
Stage four: Postherpic neuralgia
In a minimum of cases, pain in the area may persist for anywhere between a month to upwards of a year. In rare cases, this pain can be severe, affecting day-to-day activities, causing insomnia and preventing sufferers from going to work.
In short, there is no cure for shingles. Treatment can be used to shorten the length of illness and prevent complications. Treatment options include:
- Antiviral medicines to reduce the pain and duration of shingles.
- Pain medicines, antidepressants, and topical creams to relieve long-term pain.
If you suspect you have shingles or your pain hasn’t stopped after the rash has gone away, be sure to get in touch with a GP as soon as you can.
Updated: February 11, 2021