This Morning: Dr Chris explains symptoms of shingles
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Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash on the body, triggering similar physical symptoms to chickenpox. While the two infections both stem from the varicella-zoster virus, there are a number of key differences which make both shingles and chickenpox entirely separate from one another. Unlike chickenpox, shingles are not contagious – but what other differences are there?
What are the symptoms of shingles?
Shingles affects around 194,000 people in England and Wales each year, causing the iconic red skin rash in the majority of cases.
Blotchy, red blisters which ooze fluid are the most common sign of shingles, though it can often take a few days for this unpleasant rash to appear.
The NHS acknowledges two other key symptoms of shingles, including a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin, as well as a headache or feeling generally unwell.
Where does the shingles rash appear?
As the main characteristic of both shingles and chickenpox, it can be hard to tell the difference between the rashes and itchy spots caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
The key difference between a chickenpox rash and a shingles rash is that the shingles rash only appears on one side of the body.
The Shingles Support Society claims that most people get shingles on the left or right side of the torso, often following the line of a rib.
However, the rash can also appear on the face or head, affecting everything from your neck, to the skin around your eyes.
According to NHS advice, a rash which appears on both sides of the body is unlikely to be caused by shingles.
How is shingles different from chickenpox?
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.
According to the medically accredited website Healthline, the main symptoms of shingles that aren’t shared with chickenpox include:
- Muscle weakness
- An itchy rash on one side of the body
The key characteristics of a shingles rash include red, itchy blisters which ooze fluid and dry out to a scab-like consistency after a few days.
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In comparison, chickenpox is known to trigger fewer symptoms, with a more bumpy rash.
The common symptoms of chickenpox which do not occur with shingles are:
- Loss of appetite
- Red or pink bumps across the body which appear two days after other symptoms
Chickenpox spots appear all over the body and are often filled with fluid.
These notoriously itchy bumps eventually scab over and fall off.
Unlike shingles, chickenpox tends to produce smaller spots in a higher volume, whereas shingles tends to trigger larger blotches.
Can you get shingles from chickenpox?
While shingles isn’t directly caused by chickenpox, it is only possible to develop the shingles rash after you have already contracted the varicella-zoster (chickenpox) virus.
Nearly all children in the UK catch chickenpox by the age of 10, with just one in four people going on to develop shingles in later life.
According to Healthline, the virus can remain in your nervous system indefinitely without causing any symptoms, but in some cases, the virus becomes reactivated in the form of shingles – which you can develop more than once.
Though shingles isn’t contagious, it is possible for somebody who has never had chickenpox to then develop it after coming into contact with someone who has shingles.
The NHS states that:
- You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox
- You can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before
Can you get chickenpox twice?
Most people who have had chickenpox will then be immune to the disease for the rest of their life.
Despite the majority of people overcoming the infection and gaining lifelong immunity, it is possible to develop chickenpox again – though this is very rare.
Healthline states that you are most susceptible to contracting chickenpox twice if:
- You had your first case of chickenpox when you were less than six months old
- Your first case of chickenpox was extremely mild
- You have a weakened immune system
In most cases, what appears to be the second bout of chickenpox is actually the first.
Some rashes can mimic the symptoms of chickenpox leading a person to believe that they had already contracted the virus – when in fact it was just a misdiagnosis.
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