Is This Shingles or Just a Simple Rash?

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Receiving prompt treatment for shingles may help slow down the progression of shingles. The early symptoms are subtle and appear before the red rash and/or fluid-filled blisters.

If you’ve had chicken pox as a child, you can develop shingles as an adult. But how do you recognize that you may be developing shingles?

You might experience sudden sensitivity to light. It may come as a surprise to some patients, but the first indication that you are developing shingles is becoming sensitive to light.

Between 10 and 20 percent of shingles sufferers develop shingles in their eye.

If left untreated, shingles in your eye may cause scarring of the eye or vision loss.

Sudden onset of intense light sensitivity accompanied by pain around the sensitive eye is an unexpected symptom that you may have shingles.

Do you have red bumps in a line? A red rash that appears in a line is a hallmark symptom of shingles.

It might be a line of rash around your bra line or your waistline. Or they may appear as a line along your arm or thigh.

The rash tends to appear along a nerve pathway and is usually easy to detect by a healthcare professional.

The rash may be preceded by flu-like symptoms. Many patients who have shingles also have chills and fever, a headache and an upset stomach. (They don’t experience the respiratory side of a flu-like cough, runny nose or a sore throat.)

You may have these vague symptoms for one to five days before a rash appears on just one side of your body.

Do you have a headache on just one side of your head? Sometimes, shingles affect the trigeminal nerve (a facial nerve) causing head and facial pain.

The trigeminal nerve has three branches: 1) the ophthalmic, near the eye, 2) the maxillary, around the cheekbone area and 3) the mandibular, near the jawbone.

When shingles occur in these nerve branches, patients may have stabbing pain or deep aching in the affected area which is perceived as a one-sided headache.

Sharp, stabbing pain in your upper or lower back may precede a shingles rash. According to LiveStrong, back pain may begin several days before the rash appears.

Shingles are caused by the virus that causes chickenpox to get reactivated in the nerve roots of the back and spine.

The National Institute of Health explains that the word “shingles” is from the Latin word “cingulum” which means belt or girdle.

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This back pain appears in several forms. It may be a sharp, stabbing pain. It may be a burning, tingling pain and become worst. The pain may be so excruciating that the weight of your shirt sets off shooting pains.

Can chest pain really mean I’m developing shingles? There is a common thread that in most cases, pain proceeds the development of the shingles rash.

If a shingles rash is about to appear on the left side of your upper body, the pain that usually occurs before the rash might be so severe that you’ll think you are having a heart attack.

Do you have painful blisters? Everyone gets a rash from time to time, but the shingles rash is always painful and usually appears on one side of your body.

shingles symptoms

If you develop painful blisters after suffering stress or after having some flu-like symptoms, go to your primary care physician or urgent care clinic.

More than likely, you have shingles. Shingles are contagious to people who have not had chickenpox.

Prompt treatment limits the severity of your attack and prevents lingering side effects. Postherpetic neuralgia is one of the most serious complications. It’s a kind of nerve pain that develops after shingles and can last a lifetime.

Skin irritation appears on only one side of the body. This unusual feature of shingles helps both you and your physician identify your rash or skin irritation as shingles.

Because the virus travels via a nerve pathway, it stays confined to one side of the body.

Was your skin outbreak triggered by recent stress? While stress does not directly cause shingles, stress weakens your immune system.

When your immune system is weakened, the varicella-zoster virus that caused your childhood chickenpox can reactivate causing shingles.

A sudden shock like the death of a loved one or chronic stress from your job or going through a divorce can weaken your immune system sufficiently to produce shingles. Sometimes, surgery will trigger shingles.

Sudden onset of numbness or tingling in your skin might mean shingles. When the shingles virus becomes reactivated, it travels along a nerve pathway.

Stimulation of the nerves at the microscopic level produces tingling, numbness or severe sensitivity to touch.

You might experience these sensations on your torso, face, neck or on one arm or leg. Shingles usually occur just on one side of your body.

This YouTube video produced by Mayo Clinic shows actual patient photos of typical shingle rashes and blistering. If your rash resembles these, see your doctor immediately.

You may be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal about a rash?” Shingles are no laughing matter.

Without treatment, you run the risk of lasting side effects like postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) that produces lasting or intermittent burning, throbbing or shooting pain.

This pain may affect your feet to such an extent that regular visits to the gym may be impossible to tolerate or you may only be able to wear athletic shoes or medical sandals.

Get treatment promptly. One of two anti-viral drugs (Acyclovir-Zovirax or Valacyclovir-Valtrex) will shorten the course of shingles and lessen the risk of permanent side effects.

Your physician will prescribe medications for the severe pain that many patients suffer.

Pain relief comes from a variety of medicines including narcotics, tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin (Neurontin), a steroid injection and numbing agents like lidocaine.

If you’re over 60, take the shingles shot. Although it’s not 100 percent effective, the vaccine reduces the severity of your shingles attack and prevents lasting side effects.