The first symptoms of shingles are often mistaken for other ailments. A rash follows closely behind other vague symptoms such as tingling or a feeling of being poked by a pin. Some refer to this as a stabbing pain. Flu-like symptoms can occur and some people get quite ill having fever, chills, nausea and headache.
Shingles occurs in two stages. The first stage is the prodromal stage and then the eruptive stage follows.
The Prodromal Stage
The prodromal stage begins two to four days after the shingles rash breaks out. Symptoms may include numbness on one side of the face or body, fever, chills, nausea, headache as well as burning, tingling and stabbing pain, which can be constant or intermittent. Itching is another symptom, but it usually affects only area within the boundaries of the shingles rash.
The Eruptive Stage
The eruptive stage brings redness and swelling to the shingles site, as well as pain and fluid-filled blisters. New blisters will continue to appear for up to a week. Blisters may be clustered or form a band. Shingles look very similar to chickenpox. They may be irritating, itchy or excruciatingly painful. Within two weeks they become filled with pus, then dry out and scab-like crusts are formed. When shingles crust over, they no longer contain the varicella virus. The rash usually lasts between three and six weeks. Blisters leave no scars, but skin may continue to be discolored for weeks, months or even years, depending on the severity of the outbreak.
Where Do Shingles Break Out?
Most often shingles only break out on one side of the body. They may appear on an arm, leg, one side of the buttocks, one side of the body trunk, the torso or face.
Shingles pain can range from moderate to excruciating. If you think you have the symptoms of shingles, see your doctor immediately. He can prescribe medication that will reduce shingles symptoms and pain and encourage blisters to heal more quickly. Medications for shingles must be started within three days of when the rash appears to be effective.
Though shingles can be very painful, it is not usually life threatening to healthy people. Some people do experience prolonged excruciating pain after the blisters disappear. This condition is known as post herpetic neuralgia and can be unbearably painful. This pain can last for weeks, months or even years.