How to Recognize and Treat a Shingles Rash

If you’ve had chickenpox, you may develop shingles because the two conditions are caused by the same virus. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays inactive in your body. Not everyone who had chickenpox gets shingles, but the virus can become active again and cause shingles and its most recognizable symptom—the shingles rash. The risk of getting shingles increases with age, and people over age 50 and those with a weakened immune system are at the greatest risk.

Spotting a Shingles Rash

A shingles rash usually happens on one side of the body, most commonly on the face or torso. The rash is made up of painful, blister-like sores. Typically, people report feeling itching, pain or tingling for a few days before the rash appears.

Different people describe the pain caused by the rash differently. It’s commonly described as burning, numbness, shooting or tingling, and you may experience one or more types of the pain at the same time.

Blisters generally start to scab over in seven to 10 days. In most cases, the rash heals completely in two to four weeks.

Other Signs of Shingles

The shingles rash is the most talked about symptom, but it isn’t the only one. Shingles can also cause chills, fever, headache and upset stomach.

Shingles may sometimes lead to a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This condition causes nerve pain in the area when the shingles rash occurred. PHN can last a few weeks to a few months, and the pain can be severe. People under 40 rarely get PHN.

Rarely, shingles may cause additional complications, including:

  • Balance issues
  • Hearing loss
  • Inflammation in the brain
  • Pneumonia
  • Vision loss

Help for Shingles and Your Shingles Rash

There is no cure for shingles, but antiviral medication can lessen the severity of your symptoms and may shorten how long you have the condition. The medication is most beneficial when started within the first three days after the shingles rash appears. Antiviral medication may also prevent PHN if taken soon after shingles first appear.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help decrease the fever, headache and pain that usually come with shingles. Self-care may help with symptoms too:

  • Get extra rest.
  • Place a cool, damp washcloth on the rash to decrease itching and pain.
  • Take an oatmeal bath to reduce itching.
  • Use calamine lotion to ease itching.

Shingles: Keep It Out of Your House

Shingles rashes can be painful and unpleasant. The best way to avoid the disease is by getting vaccinated. The vaccine for shingles, called Shingrix, is recommended for all adults age 50 and over and adults age 19 and older with a weakened immune system.

You can’t give shingles to someone who has had chickenpox. However, if someone has not had chickenpox, they can get the virus if they come in contact with fluid from shingles blisters. In this case, they may get chickenpox.

To keep the virus from spreading:

  • Avoid scratching or touching the rash.
  • Cover the rash.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

When to See a Provider

If you notice signs of shingles, it’s time to get help. The earlier you start medication for shingles, the sooner you will feel better. Quick treatment also lowers your risk of complications.

If you think you may have shingles, don’t wait for an appointment. Visit River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic’s Urgent Care Department Monday–Friday from noon–7:30 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

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