The first signs of shingles can be:
- a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin
- a headache or feeling generally unwell
A rash will appear a few days later.
Usually you get shingles on your chest and tummy, but it can appear on your face, eyes and genitals.
The rash can form a cluster that only appears on 1 side of your body. The skin remains painful until after the rash has gone.
When to get medical help
Get advice from 111 as soon as you suspect shingles
You might need medicine to help speed up your recovery and avoid longer-lasting problems.
This works best if taken within 3 days of your symptoms starting.
111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.
Other ways to get help
Get an urgent GP appointment
A GP may be able to treat you.
Ask your GP practice for an urgent appointment.
Things you can try
- take paracetamol to ease pain
- keep the rash clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection
- wear loose-fitting clothing
- use a cool compress (a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or a wet cloth) a few times a day
- do not let dressings or plasters stick to the rash
- do not use antibiotic cream – this slows healing
How long shingles lasts
It can take up to 4 weeks for the rash to heal.
Your skin can be painful for weeks after the rash has gone, but it usually settles over time.
Stay away from certain groups of people if you have shingles
You cannot spread shingles to others. But people who have not had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from you.
This is because shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus.
Try to avoid:
- pregnant women who have not had chickenpox before
- people with a weakened immune system – like someone having chemotherapy
- babies less than 1 month old – unless it's your own baby, as they should be protected from the virus by your immune system
Stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out.
You're only infectious to others while the rash oozes fluid.
You can cover the rash with loose clothing or a non-sticky dressing.
Shingles and pregnancy
If you're pregnant and get shingles, there's no danger to your pregnancy or baby.
But you should be referred to a specialist, as you may need antiviral treatment.
You cannot get shingles from someone with chickenpox
You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox.
But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.
When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body. It can be reactivated later and cause shingles if someone's immune system is lowered.
This can be because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments like chemotherapy.
A shingles vaccine is available on the NHS for people in their 70s. It helps reduce your risk of getting shingles.
If you get shingles after being vaccinated, the symptoms can be much milder.
Ask your GP surgery if you can get the vaccine on the NHS.