Shingles, caused by the reactivation of Varicella Zoster virus (VZV) (the same as which causes chickenpox), manifests itself on the skin surface. The virus when activated begins multiplying and spreading through the nerve root in which it was thriving. This causes symptoms to appear in the localized regions where the skin is supplied by those infected nerves.
The most distinctive identifiers of shingles are the pain and rashes that affect the skin. However, the rashes may begin to appear several days after the pain starts, alongside some other, more generic symptoms of ill-health. For accurate and speedy diagnosis thus, it is best to be aware of all possible symptoms of shingles, as are catalogued below.
Early Symptoms, Before the Rash Occurs
This is called the Prodromal Stage when the virus has begun multiplying and acting upon the body, but epidermal proof is yet to appear. The following symptoms are likely to be experienced at this point:
- Tingling or tickling sensation and even numbness may occur as much as several weeks before a rash appears. Usually, such discomfort is felt in the back region or on the chest, but in some cases, the belly, face, neck, one arm or one leg may be affected too.
- Pain and burning sensation may begin to occur several days prior to appearance of rash. The pain may be a constant, dull throbbing or sporadic, sharp, shooting aches.
- Symptoms similar to that of the flu, including fever, chills, fatigue, stomach upsets and diarrhoea may also be present, just before or as the rash begins to appear.
- Tenderness or inflammation of the lymph nodes could occur.
In the early stages, the symptoms are rather generic and may be mistaken for other conditions. However, localized aches when combined with the other symptoms should alert one to the possibility of shingles (especially in individuals above 50 years of age).
When the Rash and Blisters Appear
This is the Active Stage in which clear diagnosis is possible with the distinctive band-like rashes occurring in specific regions of the body. Here are the symptoms that shingles entails in the Active Stage:
- A rash occurs in a localized fashion, with fluid-filled blisters forming gradually. The fluid in them may be clear initially but shall become cloudy in about 4 days. The rash can occur almost anywhere in the body, though usually the belly or chest is affected. Regardless of the site, the rash will occur only on one side of the body. Some people get a very mild rash or none at all.
- A rash may also appear in the facial region, usually on the forehead, cheek or nose. In some cases, if it appears around one eye – the condition is called “Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus” – eyesight may be in jeopardy unless treated immediately.
- The blisters may break open, leak and develop a crust. This usually happens when the shingles episode is on the decline, usually after at least five days of their appearance.
- The area affected by the rash may be subject to sharp, recurrent pains giving the sensation of needles piercing the skin.
Most doctors are able to identify the condition by merely inspecting the rash, which is usually very different from that of other skin infections. Consultation should be sought at the earliest for speedy recovery.
Most healthy individuals do not face any discomfort post recovery. However, for some, certain symptoms may persist. These include:
- Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is the most common complication. It entails pain and itching sensation in the rash-affected area. The discomfort could continue for months, in some cases even years.
- Skin infections may occur due to the virus in the blisters.
- Vision impairment could be caused if it is a case of Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus and treatment is not untaken in time.
These post recovery symptoms are most common in aged individuals with weak immunity. They need be careful of seeking medical aid as soon as the skin condition begins appearing.