Shingles Rash

Shingles, popularly known as herpes zoster, is an infection of nerve caused by varicella-zoster virus. Varicella-zoster virus also causes chicken pox so anyone who has developed chicken pox is likely to develop Shingles as well in the future.

1 of every 5 individual develops shingles and is most common among the individuals aged above 50 years. Although it happens only once in a lifetime but 1 out of 50 individuals may develop shingles more than once in their lifetime.

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Shingles rash last for 3 to 4 weeks but it is also possible that the person develops only pain and not the rash. Shingles rash are contagious until the rash are dried and healed up.

Shingles will not spread if the blisters are covered because infection virus is passed only through direct contact with the skin. It is advised that pregnant women who have had chicken pox in the past should avoid contact with people with shingles. Also people with low immune system should not come in direct contact with shingles. For those who have developed shingles rash should not share their towel and clothes, should not go into swimming pools or play sports to avoid passing shingles on to others.


Usually the virus affects one nerve and shingles rash are visible on a certain area of the skin. The shingles rashes are accompanied by pain in the affected area. The pain can be mild or severe depending upon the area affected and severity. The person constantly has burning, gnawing pain in some cases and sometimes it can be sharp pain that comes and goes. Sometimes few surrounding nerves also get affected and rash occur in the area they supply.

Shingles rash are most common on the chest, abdomen and upper face. First the person feels pain and 2-3 days later rash appear. Firstly rash are in the form of blotches and then they develop into blisters. The rash look similar to the chicken pox rash but shingles rash appears in the band of skin affected by the particular nerve.

Blisters form for at least a week and then begin to heal. Also, the soft tissues in the band of rashes get swollen up because of the inflammation caused by zoster virus. Generally scars of rash are left behind in this band.

The person may also feel feverish and has a feeling of being unwell.

Complications associated with shingles

Mostly shingles is not associated with any side effects but some people can get certain complications with shingles. Some of these complications are:

  1. Post herpetic neuralgia (PHN): This is the most common complications among the adults who have had shingles rash. In this, the person develops nerve pain or neuralgia which gradually eases. The pain may last for few weeks to few months and can be reduced with treatment.
  2. Eye problems: Anyone who has developed shingles rash around the eye is likely to develop inflammation in the front of eye. In worst case, whole eye gets swollen up wherein the person ends up losing the vision.
  3. Skin infection: Sometimes the shingles rash is infected with bacteria which results in the formation of red infected skin. This condition can be treated with antibiotics.
  4. Weakness: The person may feel weak if the affected nerve is a motor nerve and not the sensory nerve. If motor nerve i.e. the nerves that control muscle are affected then weakness of the muscles may occur.
  5. In the rare scenario, varicella-zoster virus may cause brain infection or infection in the entire body. People who have poor immune system are at a greater risk of developing complications.

Shingles rash treatment

To reduce irritation in the affected area, it is better to wear loose-fitted clothes. Ice-cubes, cool bath, wet dressings or cold compresses can be applied to lower down the pain caused due to shingles rash. A clean, non-sticking dressing can help reduce pain caused due to direct contact of rash with the cloth. To reduce itching, emollients creams can be applied.

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Painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers including ibuprofen are taken to relief pain. If the person develops severe pain then strong painkillers like oxycodone and tramadol can be taken.

Doctors also prescribe antiviral medicines like acyclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir to prevent virus from multiplying. These medications will stop the shingles rash from spreading. Antiviral medications are useful only in the early stage of shingles or a person above 50 years of age has developed shingles rash. Anyone who has developed shingles rash in the area around the eye will also be prescribed antiviral medicines.

Steroids are given to reduce inflammation. Steroids along with antiviral medicines are prescribed to reduce pain and accelerate healing.

Antidepressant and anticonvulsant are given when the person has severe pain during shingles and has also developed PHN. These medications can also be taken to prevent PHN if the person has recently developed shingles rash.

Images of shingles rash


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