Shingles, which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is a painful skin rash that causes blisters to form on your skin. This virus can be very contagious and typically occurs in adults over 50 years of age. The symptoms are easy to identify if you know what you’re looking for! Shingles usually start with a sensation of tingling or burning before it progresses to the appearance of red patches on your body. These patches will then blister and scab over, eventually coming off within 2-4 weeks after they appear. This blog post will discuss how you can tell if you have shingles from all the other common rashes out there!
Shingles can sometimes be mistaken for other skin conditions, such as hives, psoriasis, or eczema. The characteristics of a rash may help doctors identify the cause.
Hives are red, with itchy bumps and swollen areas of differing sizes that can appear anywhere on the body. Medications, foods, latex, or a viral infection can cause an allergic reaction resulting in hives. Hives will clear up on their own, but the process can take months.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that also forms rash-like patches with the development of blisters surrounded by red skin. A psoriasis rash typically lasts for a long time, where the skin keeps growing to be more red and scaly and can crack and bleed.
Eczema is a rash that occurs when the skin has an exaggerated inflammatory response to an irritant. Eczema can result in red, dry, and extremely itchy patches on the skin. In some people, eczema will cause oozing bumps, a condition that could be mistaken for the shingles rash. While eczema cannot be cured, it can be controlled by identifying and avoiding the allergic triggers that cause the condition (Thompson Jr, 2017).
Typically, the shingles rash appears as small raised dots at first. One difference between shingles and other rashes is the pattern that develops. The shingles rash often only affects one side of the body and therefore grows in a pattern along the nerves of the chest and belly. A rash due to allergies or eczema may develop anywhere, including the legs and the arms. Rashes due to eczema and psoriasis may last longer than the shingles rash, which is known to clear up in a few weeks. However, a shingles rash is usually much more painful than rashes caused by hives, psoriasis, or eczema.
The best way to work out if a rash is shingles is to see a doctor. In most cases, a doctor can diagnose based on medical history, a physical exam, and symptoms (Choi, 2018).
While the same virus essentially causes it, chickenpox usually presents as a rash of itchy blisters on the body, head to toe. In contrast, shingles typically present as painful skin lesions on one side of the body following a nerve root distribution along an infected dermatome.
The main stages in chickenpox are:
- Initial symptoms: Feeling unwell, body aches, fever, and headache are common when one is infected with chickenpox.
- Small red bumps on the body: These usually develop on the torso or face first and eventually cover the entire body.
- Bumps develop into blisters: These bumps will start to fill with fluid and become blisters.
- Blisters scab over and heal: After the blisters scab over, one is no longer contagious.
The main stages of shingles are:
- Initial symptoms: Like chickenpox, it is common to develop fever, headaches, or body aches before developing the rash.
- Tingling pain: It is reported that one will often feel tingles, pain, or itchiness in the area the rash will develop.
- Burning rash: Rashes will start to develop anywhere from 1 to 5 days after the tingling starts
- Blisters: The rash will start to blister and then crust over. One may still suffer from mild or extreme pain after the rash is gone due to a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Additionally, it is possible to develop shingles more than once, but it is rare (Brennan, 2021).
Chickenpox also tends to be a milder illness that typically affects children aged 4 to 10, whereas shingles may be more severe and usually seen in older adults aged above 60.
Shingles is a serious condition that should be treated as soon as possible. However, it may be challenging to distinguish shingles from other common skin conditions. One key feature is that shingles are usually more painful than rashes due to allergies or psoriasis and can cause severe pain even after all of the blisters have healed.
Shingles is also easily mistaken for chickenpox as they are both caused by the same virus and have very similar symptoms. Chickenpox presents with itchy red bumps over an entire body for several weeks before it eventually heals, while shingles is often more localized on one side of the body.
While this article serves as a reference for self-identification of symptoms, shingles can be easily mistaken for a myriad of conditions, and the best way to find out if one has shingles is by seeing a doctor.
Brennan, D. (2021, March 1). What’s the difference between chickenpox and shingles? MedicineNet
Choi, N. (2018, January 18). Is it shingles? Symptoms, vs. other conditions, and causes. Medical News Today. Retrieved September 12, 2021
Duff, B. L. (2020, March 4). Why Does the Varicella Zoster Virus Reactivate as Shingles? Drug Topics
Thompson Jr, D. (2017, December 19). Is it shingles virus or SOMETHING Else?: Everyday Health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved September 12, 2021