“Although shingles is much less contagious and itchy than chickenpox, it tends to cause more pain,” said board-certified dermatologist Daniela Kroshinsky, MD, MPH, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology, Harvard Medical School. “In addition, although the shingles rash usually clears in a few weeks, some people can experience pain, numbness, itching and tingling that can last months or even years.”
According to dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), common signs and symptoms of shingles include:
- An area of skin that burns, itches, tingles or feels very sensitive: This usually occurs in a small area on one side of the body and lasts one to three days.
- A rash that begins as red spots and quickly turns into groups of clear, painful blisters: These may turn yellow or bloody before they scab over and heal.
- Flu-like symptoms: A fever or headache may occur with the rash.
- Pain: Sometimes, the pain is bad enough for a doctor to prescribe medication. The pain tends to lessen once the blisters heal, which can take two to three weeks.
To help relieve shingles pain and discomfort, the Academy recommends the following tips:
- See a board-certified dermatologist as soon as symptoms appear. A dermatologist may prescribe anti-viral medicine and a medicine to help reduce the pain more quickly. When used within 72 hours of the rash appearing, these medications may make symptoms milder and shorter.
- Cool the rash with ice packs, cool wet cloths, or cool baths.
- Gently apply calamine lotion to the rash and blisters. Never pick at, scratch or pop the blisters, as the fluid within the blisters can be contagious and blisters help your skin heal.
- Cover the rash with loose, non-stick, sterile bandages.
- Wear loose, cotton clothing around the body parts that hurt.
“If you suspect you have shingles, avoid contact with women who are pregnant and anyone who has not had chickenpox or has not been vaccinated, and see a board-certified dermatologist right away,” said Dr. Kroshinsky.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one million Americans experience shingles each year, and the disease is most common in older adults. A vaccine, which can help prevent shingles, is available to people ages 50 and older, and it is recommended by dermatologists.