Do you have an itchy red rash? Think you might have shingles?
I’ll show you shingles pictures to help you figure out if you have the shingles rash and what stage it’s in. I’ll also provide pictures of especially extreme cases and discuss what to do if you have one of these more dangerous rashes.
Feature image: CDC
Quick Background Info
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). If you’ve had chickenpox in the past, there’s a possibility that the virus will lie dormant in your nerve tissue and will reactivate someday in the form of shingles.
This means you cannot get shingles unless you’ve had chickenpox before. Now, over 95% of people have been infected by the chickenpox virus in their life, so chances are that includes you. But if you know you’ve never had chickenpox, then your rash isn’t shingles.
How Does Shingles Normally Present? 4 Stages + Shingles Pictures
When you get shingles, you typically experience four stages: the pre-rash stage, the red rash stage, the fluid-filled blister stage, and the crusting or scabbing stage. I’ll go through what shingles looks like in each stage.
Stage #1: Pre-Rash
The first sign of shingles is typically pain without a rash. The severity of pain can vary from person to person; some experience just a tingling or tickling while others experience very severe, sharp burning or numbness. This discomfort is usually felt around the heart, lungs, or kidneys, which are the regions where the rash typically develops. However, the pain may also be felt on your face, neck, arms, stomach, or legs.
In addition to the pain, some people experience flu-like symptoms (usually without a fever) prior to or while beginning to develop the rash. These symptoms might include chills, stomachache, diarrhea, and swollen lymph nodes.
Some people only experience the pain and/or flu-like symptoms and never develop the shingles rash. However, most develop a red rash a few days after the pain begins.
Stage #2: Red Rash
If you felt pain in the areas described (face, neck, arms, stomach, legs) and have now started to develop a red rash such as the one below, you likely have shingles.
Typically, the shingles rash develops initially around the side of your torso such as in the photo below.
It starts as a red rash (such as the one seen in the shingles photo above) but will turn into fluid-filled blisters. While the shingles rash typically develops on the torso first, it can spread to almost any other place on your body.
Stage #3: Fluid-Filled Blisters
The red rash will eventually develop fluid-filled blisters such as those in the shingles images below.
NOTE: this is the ONLY stage in which you’re contagious. Before developing blisters and after the blisters burst, you’re not contagious.
To prevent the spread of shingles rash to new parts of your body (and to other people), you should cover the rash as much as possible and avoid touching your rash. The rash can be spread by touching the rash and/or blister fluid and then touching another part of your body. If you must touch your rash, wash your hands immediately after touching it. Avoid scratching as much as possible. Scratching your shingles rash can lead to scarring.
Stage #4: Crusting/Scabbing
Your shingles blisters will eventually burst and crust over. Once you develop crust and scabs, the virus is no longer contagious. However, try to avoid scratching as much as possible because scratching can lead to permanent scarring.
Crusting/scabbing rashes look like this:
Is the Shingles Rash Dangerous?
The shingles rash doesn’t usually cause any long-term damage to your body. However, if your rash develops on your face or ears, it can cause long-term issues; I’ll explain the full risks in the section below.
No matter how minor your case of shingles you should still go see your doctor to get treatment for your shingles. They’ll likely provide you with medication to ease your pain and help fight the virus.
Severe Shingles Rash That Require Special Attention
Shingles on the FACE (specifically forehead), shingles in the EYE, or shingles in the EAR do require IMMEDIATE medical attention.
According to doctors at Mayo Clinic, if the shingles rash reaches your eye, it can cause eye infections that could lead to temporary or even permanent loss of vision. If you have a shingles rash that is on your eye, eyelid or forehead (such as in the shingles pictures below), you should go see a doctor as soon as possible.
If the shingles rash is in or on your ear, you could develop hearing or balance problems, and in rare instances, the virus might attack your brain or spinal cord. For these reasons, if you have developed a shingles rash in or around your ear (such as in the image below), you should seek immediate medical attention.
Summary: What Does Shingles Look Like?
Now that you’ve seen the shingles pictures above, review the key points about what to expect from the shingles rash.
- Shingles is the reactivation of chickenpox.
- The first shingles symptom is usually pain followed a few days later by a red rash across the torso.
- The red rash eventually develops fluid-filled blisters. While you have blisters, you’re contagious.
- The blisters will pop and crust over.
- This shingles rash can be spread to any part of the body.
- You should seek immediate medical attention if you develop shingles on your eyes, forehead, face, or ears.