Shingles, a viral infection which is essentially the adult version of chicken pox, is a painful skin condition. Caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus many years after contracting the chicken pox, it results in a blistering rash, along with other uncomfortable symptoms.
The pain of shingles affects everyone a little differently: for some, it is mild and more uncomfortable than anything, while others may suffer from severe pain and discomfort. There are a number of factors at play here, including age, overall health, stress levels, and whether or not you take certain medications or suffer from a chronic illness, including cancer or a disease that compromises your immune system.
Unlike chicken pox with its itchy bumps all over, shingles appears as a painful rash. It can develop over any part of the body, but it usually occurs as a stripe of blisters wrapping around either side of the torso. The rash, which appears a few days after a burning or shooting pain, tingling, or a numb sensation in the area, is red and sensitive to the touch; it also forms fluid-filled blisters that may itch. These often burst, releasing their fluid and forming a crust. However, not everyone develops a rash, and not every rash will form blisters. Some people also experience flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and fatigue, along with sensitivity to light in the days before the rash appears.
If you experience symptoms on or around your face and eyes — including the ears — or if the rash spreads quickly and widely, call your doctor immediately, as this can cause permanent damage to your sight or hearing.
How long do symptoms last? Again, it varies on a case-by-case basis, and symptoms may clear up in stages. For example, the blisters that have burst often take between two and four weeks to heal (after which point they may leave scars); depending on whether the rash has spread, it may take longer to heal. For some people, the pain may clear up before or after the rash does.
Beginning treatment as soon as possible after coming down with shingles can help with faster healing. Consult your doctor about anti-viral medication (they may also prescribe something for pain relief depending on the severity of your symptoms), and be sure to properly clean and care for open blisters.