What is it?

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The shingles rash develops into itchy blisters, usually on one side of the body, either on the face, chest, back, abdomen or pelvis. They can take several weeks to settle. Shingles can occur at any age, but it usually affects older adults and those who have compromised immune system. About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles at some stage during their lifetime.

What are the symptoms?

An episode of shingles typically lasts around two to four weeks. The main symptoms are pain, followed by a rash. Any part of your body can be affected, including your face and eyes, although the chest and abdomen (tummy) are the most common areas where shingles develops.

Early symptoms

In some cases, shingles may cause some early (prodromal) symptoms that develop a few days before the painful rash first appears. These early symptoms can include:

  • A headache.
  • Burning, tingling, numbness or itchiness of the skin in the affected area.
  • A feeling of being generally unwell.
  • A high temperature (fever).

Not everyone will experience these prodromal symptoms. A high temperature is particularly uncommon.


Eventually, most people with shingles experience a localised “band” of pain in the affected area. The pain can be a constant, dull or burning sensation and its intensity can vary from mild to severe. You may have sharp stabbing pains from time to time, and the affected area of skin will usually be tender. Pain is less common in young healthy people and is rare in children. It usually starts a few days before the rash appears and can remain for a few days or weeks after the rash has healed.


The shingles rash usually appears on one side of your body and develops on the area of skin related to the affected nerve. Initially, the shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin before developing into itchy blisters similar in appearance to chickenpox. New blisters may appear for up to a week, but a few days after appearing they become yellowish in colour, flatten and dry out. Scabs then form where the blisters were, which may leave some slight scarring. It usually takes two to four weeks for the rash to heal completely.

What to expect?

If you are diagnosed with a shingles, you can consider discussing the following subjects with your doctor after the initial treatment:

  • Patients with shingles are prescribed medications, which may reduce the severity of the condition and pain relief. What treatment options do you recommend?
  • What possible complications may arise from the condition?
  • Once the disease subsides, what possible ways can lessen your risk from having a recurrence?

Think you might have Shingles (herpes zoster)?

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Think you might have Shingles (herpes zoster)?