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Here's What Shingles Looks Like, Say Dermatologists

More than just a rash: Here are five signs of shingles, according to the experts.

If you've ever had chickenpox or a chickenpox vaccination, there's a chance the virus could suddenly appear years later as shingles. "Although shingles is much less contagious and itchy than chickenpox, it tends to cause more pain," says board-certified dermatologist Daniela Kroshinsky, MD, MPH, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology, Harvard Medical School. "In addition, although the shingles rash usually clears in a few weeks, some people can experience pain, numbness, itching and tingling that can last months or even years." Here are five signs you have shingles, according to dermatologists. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Blistering Rash

Woman with a rash on her face—papulopustular rosacea.

Shingles appears as a blistering rash on one side of the body, with telltale signs of itching, burning, or numbness before the rash erupts. "Shingles symptoms vary in severity and some people can experience shingles pain without ever developing a rash," says osteopathic family physician Rob Danoff, DO. "For people over 60, it is especially important to get medical care at the first signs of shingles, as sometimes pain in the affected area can linger months to years following an outbreak if the nerves have been damaged. While there is no cure for shingles, prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs and pain medicine can speed healing and reduce the risk of complications."

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elderly Man suffering from headache migraine pain at home on sofa

A headache is one of the symptoms of shingles, especially if the rash appears anywhere near the head or face. "The rash also may appear on one side of your face or scalp," according to the University of Texas at Austin. "The painful rash may be in the area of your ear or eye. When shingles occurs on the head or scalp, symptoms can include headaches and weakness of one side of the face, which causes that side of the face to look droopy. The symptoms usually go away eventually, but it may take many months."

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Mature woman takes off her glasses and massages eyes.

Long-term fatigue is also strongly linked to shingles. "It's more likely that whatever has been the trigger for your outbreak has made you tired," says Shingles Support Society director Marion Nicholson. "For example, we often find that a person was unwell or overtired, or had an operation or even bereavement, and this stress or exhaustion occurred before shingles appears. The tiredness and general feelings of being unwell will most likely be gone within four weeks—at most, six weeks."

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​​"This is typically one of the most common shingles symptoms that gets mistaken for something else," according to Southeast Dermatology Specialists. "Most people can attribute nausea to something they ate or drank. Unfortunately, this symptom progresses to the point of being flu-like, though vomiting is a relatively uncommon result of this nausea. Instead, patients often report sharp stomach pains, diarrhea, and a general feeling of lasting queasiness. One important thing to note is that unlike the flu, nausea that precedes a shingles outbreak typically doesn't come with a fever. This is a key differentiator in these two conditions."

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Stomach Pain

woman with stomach ache sitting on sofa

Sometimes, shingles can occur without a rash—and stomach pain might be a sign of chickenpox virus in the stomach. "In the absence of rash, nobody ever suspected shingles," says Anne Gershon, MD. "Very old people or people who are immunocompromised can develop pseudo-obstruction… which can also occur as a result of varicella zoster reactivating in the gut. We've also seen it associated with inflammatory bowel disease, and we've found zoster in the guts of patients with Crohn's disease."

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When Should I See a Doctor?

Hands in blue gloves are typing a yellow vaccine in a syringe

If you think you have shingles or are worried about getting it, see your doctor and discuss the options available to you. "With COVID, people are so far behind getting their (shingles) vaccines because they haven't been aggressive about getting them while not wanting to go out," says Stephan Foster, a pharmacist and liaison member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP. "There is enough supply. There are a lot of people that need to get it right now."

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Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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