Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Harriet Bradley

, Livi Medical Director

Medically reviewed

Shingles is an infectious disease caused by the same virus as chickenpox – varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Shingles is very common, but the frequency and severity of the disease increases with age.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Pain and sensitivity usually happens a couple of days before the rash. These are the first signs to look out for:

  • Tingling or sensitivity in an area of the skin

  • Generally feeling unwell – most commonly headache and/or fever

A rash will then appear on one side of the body, the key symptoms here are:

  • A red blotchy rash on one side of the body

  • Fluid-filled blisters in groups or a long line

  • Pain or burning sensation of the area

You’ll usually get the shingles rash on your chest, tummy or back, but it can appear anywhere on the body like the eyes and genitals. 

What causes shingles?

Shingles happens when the chickenpox virus is reactivated – the virus remains present in your body once you’ve had chickenpox (which usually happens during childhood, but can also happen as an adult). 

The virus is usually reactivated when there’s a drop in your immunity, caused by stress, fatigue or age. It then multiplies and travels along a nerve to the skin to present as shingles.

It can take up to 4 weeks for the shingles rash to heal and disappear, but your skin might be painful or sensitive for weeks after the rash has gone.

How is shingles treated?

Treatment for shingles aims to shorten the length of the illness and prevent complications like an infection of the rash. This usually includes:

  • Antiviral medicine to reduce the pain and duration

  • Pain medicines and topical creams to relieve the longer-term pain

Speak to a doctor as early as possible if you think you might have shingles – it’s best to seek treatment within 3 days of the rash appearing.

The NHS offers a shingles vaccination for people over 70, to help prevent shingles developing. You can still get shingles after being vaccinated but the symptoms tend to be much milder and easier to manage.

Can I pass on shingles to other people?

The risk of spreading the VZV virus to other people is low if you cover your shingles rash. However, if your rash develops into blisters and produces fluid, someone who comes into direct contact with the fluid and has never had chickenpox, could then develop chickenpox

When should I speak to a doctor?

If you think you might have shingles, speak to a nurse or doctor as soon as possible, especially if you:

  • Are over 50 years old

  • Are immuno-compromised

  • Are unable to eat as a result

  • Have pain or a rash around the eye

  • Have severe pain

  • Have a large rash

What can Livi do?

Livi’s healthcare professionals can diagnose shingles and prescribe the appropriate treatment. If necessary, they can also refer you to specialist care.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Harriet Bradley, Livi Medical Director