What Does Shingles Look Like?

Category: Medical Information

People of all ages get rashes on their skin. Infants get diaper rash and drool rash when moisture irritates their skin. Heat rash afflicts children and adults, and allergies and medications can also cause different types of skin rashes. People may also break out in a rash if exposed to the oils in poison ivy.

Most rashes aren’t contagious, but shingles is different. Exposure to the shingles rash fluid can transmit the virus that causes shingles, which is one of the reasons you should know how shingles looks. Verifying if your skin condition is shingles ensures you receive proper treatment and take appropriate steps to avoid spreading it to others. 

What does shingles look like?

The shingles rash typically first appears on the left or right side of the stomach. Initially, the rash consists of fluid-filled blisters. The first blisters run in a straight line, usually forming lines as it spreads along nerve lines in your body.

What is shingles?

Shingles is the external symptom of an active virus. Shingles symptoms start with itchy skin. The symptoms of shingles escalate within a few days when the blisters appear. 

What causes shingles?

Chickenpox is a disease that typically affects children. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Children suffer from an itchy rash and fever when they have chickenpox. After they recover, VZV remains dormant in their system.

VZV causes shingles when it reactivates in adults. Shingles are similar to chickenpox because both conditions have the same root cause and involve itchy fluid-filled blisters, although shingles is more painful than chickenpox

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How do you get shingles?

older man at home in pain with his wife

Chickenpox is the root cause of shingles. Anyone who’s had chickenpox can develop shingles. It’s common knowledge that chickenpox is contagious, but is shingles contagious? It’s possible to spread VZV through aerosolized secretions from chickenpox or shingles. When people breathe in those secretions, they can be infected with the active virus. People also transmit VZV through direct physical contact with the fluid in chickenpox or shingles blisters. 

Those who’ve had chickenpox could develop shingles if exposed to blister liquid from shingles. Those who haven’t had chickenpox could get chickenpox, which can be severe for infected adults. There’s a risk of death for every person infected with chickenpox, but the mortality rate is higher for infected adults. Adults may also suffer other medical complications from chickenpox, such as stroke. Adults infected with chickenpox would be susceptible to developing shingles later if the virus was reactivated or exposed to VZV. 

What are the stages of shingles?

The first symptoms of shingles begin before the rash appears. You’ll suffer from itchy skin that can feel like it’s burning.

Blisters appear during the second stage in as many as five days or as little as 24 hours after your skin starts itching. Shingles can spread over your entire body. People may get shingles on face, arms, legs, or buttocks.

The blisters fill with fluid approximately 48 hours after the rash appears. Shingles are contagious and should be covered to avoid spreading VZV to others.

The blisters dry out and crust over within 10 days. Once the crust appears, it takes approximately 14 days to heal completely. At this point, the scabs are no longer visible. 

How long does shingles last?

Shingles may last approximately three weeks in the best-case scenario. In these cases, the rash appears one day after the itching starts, and the blisters scab over seven days later. 

Shingles may also affect infected persons for up to four weeks. In these cases, it takes five full days for the rash to appear after developing itchy skin. The blisters remain fluid-filled and contagious for ten days before scabs appear and are followed by approximately two weeks of recovery before the scabs disappear.

What is the treatment for shingles?

You can’t take medication to cure shingles. Instead, focus on shingles treatment to alleviate your symptoms. You’ll need to see your doctor to confirm your diagnosis and receive a prescription. Acyclovir, Famciclovir, and Valacyclovir are prescription medications commonly prescribed to treat symptoms of shingles. 

Can you prevent shingles?

Americans have been able to get vaccinated against shingles since 2006. The original vaccine is not available now, but a new vaccine came on the market in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends this vaccine to immunocompromised adults 19 or older or over the age of 49.

Are there people who shouldn’t be vaccinated for shingles? 

Anyone allergic to any ingredient in the shingles vaccine should consult their doctor to determine if it’s safe to get vaccinated.

Others who should delay vaccination include:

  • Persons who are pregnant
  • Those currently infected with shingles
  • Anyone ill with a fever
  • Anyone with a serious illness

Shingles Vaccine Side Effects

All vaccines pose risks of side effects. Standard shingles side effects include:

  • Arm and muscle pain
  • Swelling at the injection site
  • Redness at the injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea

In rare cases, people develop a disorder affecting the nervous system after receiving the shingles vaccine. This disorder is known as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).

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Tips and Reminders for Those With Shingles

Focus on pain management to alleviate symptoms while you have shingles. Avoid tight clothing that will rub against your blisters. Wash regularly and keep the blisters clean to avoid infection.

Remember, you’re infectious for up to 10 days after getting shingles. Avoid close contact with anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox during this time. You may benefit from services from an infectious diseases treatment team if you have a severe case. 

Shingles can be severe, particularly for older adults. It’s a transmittable disease, making it crucial for those infected to avoid contact with others to reduce the risk of infection. Anyone who’s had chickenpox has a risk of developing shingles unless they get vaccinated. Those with severe symptoms should contact experienced infectious disease service providers to discuss treatment options. 


Claibourne Ray, C. (2012). Second Time Around: Why does shingles cause far more pain than chickenpox?

Di Rado, A. (2000). For adults who never had chickenpox, the disease can be a killer but a vaccine can help.

Guillain-Barre syndrome – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. (2022).

Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Transmission. (2019).

Shingles Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know about the Shingles Vaccine (Shingrix). (2022).