Shingles: What is my rash? Major signs and differences to know from other rash conditions

Shingles: Symptoms and effects of virus

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Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. There are a number of other health conditions which cause rashes such as hives or chickenpox. How can you be sure it is in fact shingles rather than another condition?

Hives vs shingles

Hives are barely raised, larger in circumference, and paler in colour than shingles.

A shingles rash involves a strip of small blisters, rather than wheals like in hives.

Hives are also red, itchy welts that may be accompanied by dangerous swelling of the deep layers of the skin, called “angioedema”.

Hives are a common cause of skin rashes.

Unlike chickenpox and shingles, hives are not caused by a virus.

Instead, they are usually the result of an allergic reaction—to insect bites or stings, medicines, food, or other environmental triggers, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).

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Chickenpox vs shingles

Unlike a chickenpox rash, the shingles rash is usually confined to a specific area of the body and appears in a single band, rather than spreading indiscriminately.

“It typically happens somewhere on the chest or back,” said Doctor Jones-Lopez, although the head and other parts of the body can sometimes be affected.

“The key thing that distinguishes the shingles rash is that it doesn’t cross the midline. If it spreads across your body, it’s not shingles.”

For example, when there is a rash on the left side of your face but another on the right side of your back, you can probably rule out this illness.

While the main symptoms of both shingles and chickenpox affect the skin, there are a few key differences between the appearance of these common rashes.

The main symptoms of shingles that aren’t shared with chickenpox include:

  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • An itchy rash on one side of the body.

Most cases of shingles last three to five weeks, said the National Institute on Ageing.

The health site added: “The first sign is often burning or tingling pain; sometimes it includes numbness or itching on one side of the body.

“Somewhere between one and five days after the tingling or burning feeling on the skin, a red rash will appear.”

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