The first sign of shingles is often pain, and sometimes numbness, in or under the skin. The skin in the area is red and often tingles. Pain associated with shingles can be intense and is often described as "unrelenting." The pain may be itching, stabbing, or shooting. The individual may also feel sluggish or have a fever, chills, a headache, an upset stomach, diarrhea, or difficulties with urination three to four days before the blisters develop. Chest pain when taking breaths can also occur before the rash manifests.
After several days, a rash of small, red, round, fluid-filled blisters reminiscent of chicken pox appears on reddened skin. Usually, these blisters begin to dry out and scab over within a few days or weeks. Until these blisters scab over, the varicella-zoster virus is contagious, and people who have not had chicken pox could get chicken pox as a result of exposure to the virus.
People with lesions on the torso may feel spasms of pain at the gentlest touch or breeze. The blisters are usually limited to one or more bands, called dermatomes, on one side of the trunk, around the waistline, or clustered on one side of the face. Scientists now know that the shingles lesions correspond to a specific sensory nerve that exits from the brain or spinal cord.
People with "optical" shingles, where the virus has invaded an ophthalmic nerve, may suffer painful eye inflammation that leaves them temporarily blind or even permanently impairs their vision. Individuals with this type of shingles should see an ophthalmologist immediately. If shingles appears on the face and affects the auditory nerves, which connect the ear and the brain, it can also lead to complications in hearing or temporary facial paralysis.
Last reviewed on 9/28/08
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