Introduction

Shingles
Shingles

Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. See a GP as soon as possible if you think you have it.

Check if you have shingles

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 usually appear a few days later.

Usually you get shingles on your chest or tummy, but it can appear on your face, eyes and genitals.

The shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, usually on one side of your body only. A rash on both sides of your body is unlikely to be shingles.

The blotches become itchy blisters that ooze fluid. A few days later, the blisters dry out and scab over.

The skin remains painful until after the rash has gone.

If it affects your eye, the shingles can also make your eye red and sore, affect your sight or hearing, or make it difficult to move one side of your face.

It is important to talk to someone at your GP surgery as soon as possible if you think you might have  shingles

They can assess how serious it is, prescribe medicine to help speed up your recovery and avoid longer-lasting problems.

These work best if taken within 3 days of your symptoms.

If you can't see a GP call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47, or 111 if available in your area, for advice on what to do.

How to treat shingles symptoms yourself

Do:

  • 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

Don't:

  • 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. Some people have pain for much longer.

Stay away from certain groups of people if you have shingles

You can't spread shingles to others. But people who haven't 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

Important

Stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and can't 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

Contact your GP or midwife immediately or call NHS 111 if you develop any rash when you're pregnant, including a rash that develops after contact with someone who has shingles or chickenpox.

If you're pregnant and get shingles, your GP should refer you to a specialist, as you may need antiviral treatment.

You can't get shingles from someone with chickenpox

You can't get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox.

But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven't 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.

Shingles vaccination

A shingles vaccine is available in NHS Wales 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.

Find out more about who can have the shingles vaccine.

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Selected links

NHS Direct Wales links

Chickenpox

Neuralgia

Peripheral neuropathy

External Links

Patient UK: Shingles

Public Health Wales: Shingles

Protect yourself against the pain of Shingles (video) Public Health Wales

Leaflets

Shingles Q&A for Health Professionals (pdf) Welsh Government Leaflet

 

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 04/03/2019 13:21:46