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Early Signs of Shingles

By Juanita Williams ; Updated July 27, 2017

Shingles is a painful skin rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox--herpes zoster. In the United States, 9 out of 10 adults have had chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the virus remains alive but lies dormant in your body. If the virus becomes active again, it can cause shingles.

Early Symptoms

Shingles appear as a painful blistering rash. The rash can appear anywhere on your body, however they usually appear as a band of blisters on one side of your face or body. Sometimes you can actually feel the symptoms before they appear. Typically, the rash will last up to 30 days. The early warning signs are isolated pain or tingling around the trunk or down the arm and leg, flu-like symptoms, headaches and itching.


Numbness and tingling down the leg and arm or around your trunk is one of the first symptoms of shingles. You might feel a tingling sensation or numbness that will be uncomfortable and can occur anywhere on your body including the abdomen, neck, back, chest, and arm or leg. These are abnormal sensations and are also referred to as loss of sensation or sensory loss. The nerve root that supply sensation to your body runs alongside both sides of your body. When the virus is awaken it travels up the nerve roots, thus creating tingling and numbness.

Flu-like Symptoms

Flu-like symptoms are another early sign of shingles. These flu-like symptoms include diarrhea, chills, and stomachaches. These symptoms normally occur without a fever and usually appear before or along with the start of a rash. These flu-like symptoms can be misdiagnosed as something else, so check with your medical professional for a proper diagnosis.


Headaches are another early symptom of having shingles. Headaches can increase with sensitivity of light. In some cases, shingles will produce severe to migraine headaches. This is especially normal in cases where shingles is in the scalp. To help relieve the pain, Tylenol or Ibuprofen may be taken; however check with your health care professional before taking any medications.


Itching is an early indication of shingles. Normally, itching will start before the rash appears. The itching will begin where the rash will normally appear. Shingles affect the nerve roots, therefore resulting in pain and itching. Itching from shingles can be relieved by applying hydrocortisone cream and/or taking Benadryl. In some cases, people will experience a lot of itching but no pain. Do not scratch the blisters or rash as doing so will increase the risk of the blisters or rash spreading.

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