What are the symptoms of shingles and why does it make you tired?

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It’s estimated that around one in every four people will have at least one episode of shingles during their life, but what causes the infection and what are the symptoms?

We've covered this and everything else you need to know - including how and why shingles makes you feel tired - in the article below.

What causes shingles?

Also known as herpes zoster, it is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox.

Older adults and individuals with a weakened immune system are at greatest risk. It is not possible to have shingles if you have never been exposed to chickenpox or the varicella virus that causes it.

Once exposed, the virus can lay dormant for years. But most adults with the dormant virus never experience an outbreak or any further problems. However, in some individuals, it may reactivate multiple times.

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What are the symptoms of shingles in adults?

The first sign can be a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin, or a headache or feeling generally unwell. A rash will then appear a few days later.

Most often people get shingles on the left or right side of the torso, on a patch of skin served by nerves from a single ganglion. This often follows the line of a rib. You can also get shingles on your face, eyes and genitals.

What do shingles look like?

Red patches on the skin are usually the first sign of the shingles rash appearing. You may also have fluid filled blisters that burst and weep and turn into sores.

They may not come up all at once, but form and slowly heal over a period of two to five weeks. The skin then crusts over and heals, apart from a little sensitivity or ‘nerve ache’ which soon disappears.

This may signal the end of the episode for many people, but some people develop post herpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Does shingles make you tired?

Many individuals often say they feel extremely tired during, and even after, the infection. Sufferers will normally feel fatigued, but it's not the shingles that have made them feel that way.

Marian Nicholson, Director of Shingles Support Society, explains: “It’s more likely that whatever has been the trigger for your outbreak has made you tired. For example we often find that a person was unwell or overtired, or had an operation or even a bereavement, before the shingles appeared.”

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How long does shingles last?

It can take up to four weeks for the rash to heal. The skin can be painful for weeks after the rash has gone, but it usually settles over time. Individuals with shingles should stay away from pregnant women who have not had chickenpox before, people with a weakened immune systems, and babies less than one month old – unless it's your own baby.