Shingles Symptoms You Might Be Ignoring

The most common red flag is a painful rash, but shingles can present in a number of different ways.

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Symptoms of shingles - woman scratching neck
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Painful blisters

Blisters can sometimes be a sign of shingles, a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (the same virus that causes chicken pox) that can be extraordinarily painful. “Some people mistake shingles blisters for spider bites, says Tracy Lippard, MD, a geriatrician for Kaiser Permanente in Longmont, Colorado. “Getting care quickly is important, as the medication to treat shingles works best if it’s started within three days of the rash.”

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Symptoms of shingles - woman scratching arm
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Skin irritation on one side of the body

This is one of the hallmark symptoms of shingles, also called herpes zoster. “Shingles is always on one side of the body,” says Randell Wexler, MD, a family physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Gahanna, Ohio. “It never crosses the midline.”

Here are six common skin rashes, decoded.

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Symptoms of shingles - man with light sensitivity migraine
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Sensitivity to light

A sudden sensitivity to bright light, whether sunshine or fluorescent lighting, can be a subtle sign that something is amiss. According to Larisa Geskin, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, it may mimic the feeling of a mild migraine coming on.

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Symptoms of shingles - man in pain
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Flu-like feeling

Got your flu shot but still feel like you’ve been hit by a truck? It could be one of the symptoms of shingles. “It’s literally like having the flu, with body aches, fatigue, and chills without fever,” says Dr. Geskin.

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Symptoms of shingles - doctor examining male patient's skin
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Line of red bumps

Red bumps in a certain pattern on your body could be one of the early symptoms of shingles. The rash can start with red bumps anywhere on the body, and usually takes a shape known as dermatomal, according to Dr. Geskin. That means they are usually linear and in a pattern related to the branches of the spinal nerve that innervates that section of the skin.

Here are more skin changes you should never ignore.

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Signs of disease your teeth can reveal - man stressed at laptop
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It’s no secret that stress can wreak havoc on the immune system, but it can also be a trigger for shingles. “Stressors such as hospitalization for a medical illness or a huge financial setback may be overwhelming,” says Evan Rieder, MD, a dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. According to Dr. Rieder, even mild stressors like a sleepless night or a runny nose can weaken the body’s immune system and allow reactivation of the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles.

Discover eight science-backed strategies to boost your immune system.

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Chest pains
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Chest pain

Chest pain is scary, but it’s not always a symptom of a heart attack. “Prior to the appearance of vesicles on the chest, patients may experience sharp or burning pain,” says Sylvia Morris, a board-certified internist in Atlanta. (Vesicles are fluid-filled blisters.) According to Dr. Morris, chest pain that feels itchy and painful to the touch could be an early sign of shingles.

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Symptoms of shingles - senior man with a headache
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A nagging headache can come from stress, allergies, a reaction to certain foods—or the onset of shingles. A shingles-onset headache is unilateral, meaning it’s felt on only one side of the head. “The headache may be centred around the eye, the top of the head, or the forehead,” Dr. Morris says.

Find out the most common types of headaches (and how to cure them).

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Woman with sore arm
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It’s easy to ignore minor aches and pains, especially in middle age, but pay attention to the location. “One symptom that people might ignore is pain in a certain area even with no evidence of a rash,” says Patrick Fratellone, MD, an integrative physician and registered herbalist in New York. “There are a few patients who have shingles and no rash.” In those cases, a blood test can help with the diagnosis.

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Shingles signs - woman with one sore eye
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Pain around one eye

If you get migraines, you may be inclined to dismiss this as yet another headache. But don’t ignore this nuance because it could be one of the symptoms of shingles. “If you develop pain and tingling in the eye area along with any type of rash, see a doctor immediately,” says Kristine Arthur, MD, a board-certified internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “If left untreated, it could cause blindness.”

Here are 12 signs you need to visit an eye doctor.

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Mature woman with sharp lower back pain
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Sharp, stabbing pain

“Shingles pain usually has a sharp stabbing, burning, intensely itchy, or pins-and-needles quality,” says Allison Lynch, MD, a primary care physician in San Diego, California. It usually shows up in the trunk area of the body, including the chest and upper and lower back. Dr. Lynch says this symptom can begin several days before the rash appears.

Next, check out 20 more symptoms you should never ignore.

The Healthy
Originally Published on The Healthy

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