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Shingles symptoms

If you have shingles, then initially you may experience:

  • burning
  • tingling
  • itching
  • stabbing
  • numbness sensation on the affected area of your body.

Within two to three days after the initial symptoms a painful rash will appear on the sensitive area of skin.

At first this rash consists of painful red bumps that quickly develop into fluid-filled blisters, which will eventually develop a crusty surface.

In many people shingles will get better without any complications. However a number of complications of shingles can occur. These include:

  • Ongoing pain after the shingles rash has settled. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) and occurs in about half of older people with shingles. Shingles occurring in the eye area could result in temporary or permanent vision loss, if you do have shingles in your eye your doctor may refer you to an eye specialist for treatment.
  • Between 5-10% of people who have shingles may develop weakness in their arms or legs. The shingles rash could become infected and you may need antibiotic treatment.
  • Shingles can occasionally damage hearing or can lead to a dry mouth or taste problems depending on the specific nerves affected by the virus.
  • In very rare cases shingles will scar, or result in encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and transverse myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord).
  • On very rare occasions shingles can trigger the spread of the chickenpox virus to internal organs, like the lungs. This could be life threatening.
  • If shingles affects the central nerves in your head, it may result in a rare condition called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

When to see your doctor?

See your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of shingles. If you are treated with antiviral medications within three days of shingles starting you could reduce the severity of shingles and the risk of further complications.

Also see your doctor if you have symptoms of shingles and are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • severe headache
  • symptoms that affect your eye area
  • temperature of 38ºC or higher
  • if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system due to medication which suppresses your immune system, or a condition which lowers your immune system.

Last reviewed: May 2015

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