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When Tingling and Rash Might Be Symptoms of Shingles

10 Things Your Skin Says About Your Health: Page 10

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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What it means: An often painful condition called shingles (herpes zoster) announces itself in this distinctive way. Shingles is caused by the same virus that gives people chicken pox. In eight out of ten people who get chicken pox, the virus retreats to the body's sensory nerves and stays there. But stress, infection, certain medications (such as those used in chemotherapy and after transplants), or an aging immune system can reactivate the virus years later, producing shingles.

More clues: A burning sensation and sensitivity to touch often precede the shingles rash by days or weeks. (Or, in some lucky people, the pain may be mild.) The rash itself first looks like raised red bumps, not unlike chicken pox, appearing in a band or strip on the trunk, legs, face, neck -- but only on the left or the right side. Within a few days, the bumps turn into fluid-filled pustules, which crust over a week to ten days later.

What to do: See a doctor as soon as you feel the pain, if you suspect you're in a high-risk group. Starting antiviral medication within 72 hours of the rash's appearance can reduce the severity of the disease and lower your odds of developing a complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). In PHN, the searing pain of shingles can continue for weeks, months, or even years. People older than age 70 are most likely to develop PHN, but anyone can.

And if the idea of fluid-filled pustules makes you hope you never get shingles, ask your doctor about the newish (2006) shingles vaccine, which the CDC recommends for all adults over age 60.