In many cases, early signs and symptoms of shingles occur two to three days before the onset of the characteristic rash. These early symptoms can include chills, swollen lymph nodes, and a burning or shooting pain generally located on one side of the body or face. The shingles rash typically appears as several small fluid-filled blisters (similar to chickenpox). In some cases, shingles symptoms can lead to complications such as temporary or permanent blindness.
An Overview of the Signs and Symptoms of Shingles
When the virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus) reactivates, a person can develop shingles symptoms. The symptoms a person experiences will vary. For some people, the symptoms of shingles can be very mild; for others, especially in older adults, symptoms can be debilitating. There is no way to predict who will develop shingles symptoms, how severe they will be, or whether a person will develop complications.
Early Shingles Symptoms
In a classic case, early symptoms will occur two to three days before the characteristic rash appears. Early symptoms of shingles may include burning or shooting pain generally located on one side of the body or face. The skin may also tingle or itch. Other early symptoms can include:
- Feeling ill with fever
- Upset stomach
- Swollen or tender lymph nodes.
After a couple of days with early shingles symptoms, a rash of small fluid-filled blisters, reminiscent of chickenpox, may appear on reddened skin. These blisters seem to arrive in waves over the next three to five days. The blisters may then break open, ooze, and finally crust over. For most people, the rash heals completely, leaving no scars.
The shingles rash can appear anywhere; however, blisters are usually limited to a specific band (called a dermatome) spanning one side of the body and in a very specific area. The common areas for the shingles rash include the chest, back, ribcage, waist, or the head or neck area (face, ears, mouth, eyes, or tongue). Shingles symptoms are less common on the lower body.
This shingles rash may occur along with pain. Shingles pain can be mild or intense and is often described as unrelenting. Many shingles patients say that it was the intense pain that ultimately sent them to the doctor. They often report that the sensation of anything brushing across the inflamed nerve endings on the skin is almost unbearable.
In rare cases, it is possible to have shingles pain without the rash.