Most people get the herpes zoster virus, otherwise known as chickenpox, when they are younger. Shingles is actually a reactivation of this virus. Its common symptoms include headache, sensitivity to light and flu-like symptoms even without a fever. The more obvious signs of shingles are reddish and itchy rashes, scabs and blisters.
There are three stages of shingles and as shingles progresses the symptoms change. There have been instances where medical professionals have mistaken the shingles as a cold or the flu, and in extreme circumstances it has even been mistaken for heart attack symptoms.
In the early stage of shingles, before a rash appears, pain, burning, tickling, tingling and numbness on the affected area may be experienced. In some cases, flu-like symptoms may be experienced along with chills, stomachache and swelling of the lymph nodes.
Eruptive or Active Stage
In the active stage, the first bands and strips of rash will appear on the body and will only affect one side of the body. Common areas are the torso and face. In a short time this rash turns into blisters. Initially, the fluid inside the blister is clear but becomes cloudy after three to four days. Discomfort and piercing pain accompany the skin rash. The blisters eventually crust after about five days. The rash will heal in about two to four weeks.
This is the stage of chronic pain that can be found in severe cases of shingles. This stage is characterised by extreme aching, burning, stabbing and persistent pain and tremendous sensitivity to touch and can last up to 30 days.
Infectious Stage Warning
The eruptive or active stage is the most infectious stage and a person with shingles is contagious and can infect others who have never had chickenpox, especially those with an already weakened immune system. Once the blisters break and ooze, the risk of infection heightens. In addition, it is possible that shingles can get into the eyes and cause permanent damage. It rarely leads to hospitalisation but it typically needs medication to manage pain and infection.