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What is Shingles?
If you’ve ever had the chickenpox — and almost all adults have — there’s a good chance the virus is still at large in your body. The varicella zoster virus can lie dormant for decades without causing any symptoms. In some people, the virus wakes up and travels along nerve fibers to the skin. The result is a distinctive, painful rash called shingles.
What Does the Shingles Rash Look Like?
The shingles rash can be a distinctive cluster of fluid-filled blisters — often in a band around one side of the waist. This explains the term “shingles,” which comes from the Latin word for belt. The next most common location is on one side of the forehead or around one eye. But shingles blisters can occur anywhere on the body.
Shingles Symptoms: Before the Rash
The first symptoms of shingles appear one to five days before the rash. These early warning signs are usually felt in the location where the rash will develop:
Other Symptoms of Shingles
While the localized pain and rash are the tell-tale signs of shingles, other symptoms may include:
- Upset stomach
Shingles or Something Else?
Small blisters that appear only on the lips or around the mouth may be cold sores, sometimes called fever blisters. They’re not shingles, but are instead caused by the herpes simplex virus. Itchy blisters that appear after hiking, gardening, or spending time outdoors could be a reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac. If you aren’t sure what’s causing your rash, see your health care provider.
What Causes Shingles?
The varicella zoster virus is the culprit behind both chickenpox and shingles. The first time someone is exposed to the virus, it causes the widespread, itchy sores known as chickenpox. The virus never goes away. Instead, it settles in nerve cells and may reactivate years later, causing shingles. It’s also called herpes zoster, but it’s not related to the virus that causes genital herpes.