Shingles is a condition that causes a painful, blistering rash, hitting roughly 1 million people each year in the U.S. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus. After chickenpox, the virus goes dormant but still remains in your body; as a result, about 10% of those who have had chickenpox will develop shingles.
It can cause a number of symptoms, often leading to debilitating nerve pain. Those who get shingles usually only experience one episode, but it can reoccur. Rarely, shingles can result in hearing or vision loss, encephalitis, or even death.
For reasons doctors are still trying to determine, the dormant virus can re-emerge at any time— coming back with a bang. Low immune system function appears to play a role, as those with certain health conditions are at higher risk. There are some shingles vaccine options if you feel you might be at risk. Timely treatment can save you a lot of pain, so know the early signs.
Following are some symptoms to watch out for:
If you’ve been experiencing light sensitivity similar to what you’d find with a migraine headache, you could be developing shingles. Light sensitivity almost always indicates some kind of health issue, so if it’s a new symptom for you, make sure to see a doctor.
Making it even easier to mistake for a migraine, shingles can also trigger a headache that affects one side of the head. The pain often emerges around one eye, near the forehead, or at the top of the head.
People suffering from shingles often first think they’re developing the flu. Shingles can cause fever, aches, chills, and upset stomach.
When shingles strikes the chest area, the pain is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack. Patients often describe the pain as sharp or burning, but the skin itself can also itch or be painful to the touch. If you experience chest pain and do suspect a heart attack, always err on the side of caution and seek immediate medical attention.
Pain Without a Rash
Shingles pain often begins before there is any signs of a rash. People often experience pain, itching, or tingling up to 5 days before the rash develops. Shingles pain usually develops on one side of the body, even if it’s on the stomach, face, or back.
Pain and other symptoms associated with shingles can be indicators of other conditions, so if you experience any unusual pains or signs of disease, be sure to see your doctor.