What Are Symptoms and Signs of Shingles?
Depending on the nerves involved, shingles can affect many parts of the body.
|Fig. 1: Picture of examples of dermatomes; SOURCE: CDC|Picture of blisters produced during shingles; SOURCE: Medscape
- The first symptom of shingles is often extreme sensitivity or pain in a broad band on one side of the body (see Figure 1 for an example of dermatomes, areas where individual nerves from the spine function). The sensation can be itching, tingling (oversensitivity or a pins and needles sensation), burning, constant aching, or a deep, shooting, or "lightning bolt" pain. If these symptoms appear on the face, especially near the eyes, seek medical help immediately. Other nonspecific symptoms that can occur at the same time are fever, chills, headache, and itching.
- Typically, one to three days after the pain starts, a rash with raised, red bumps and blisters erupts on the skin in the same distribution as the pain. They become pus-filled, then form scabs by about 10-12 days. In a few cases, only the pain is present without the rash or blisters. These painful red blisters and reddish rash follow a dermatomal distribution (a linear distribution that follows a the area supplied by one nerve, known as a dermatome); this usually occurs only on one side of the body and does not spread to other body sites in most individuals.
- The rash disappears as the scabs fall off in the next two to three weeks, and scarring may result.
- Some patients develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), in which the localized pain of shingles remains even after the rash is gone. As many as 15% of people with shingles develop postherpetic neuralgia; most of these cases occur in people over 50 years of age.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2016
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