Herpes Zoster Symptoms
Burning pain in or under the skin is often the first symptom of herpes zoster. Other early signs and symptoms can include fever, chills, and upset stomach. After several days of early symptoms, a rash of small fluid-filled blisters can appear on reddened skin. These herpes zoster symptoms generally improve over time, but sometimes they can result in complications. For example, some patients develop postherpetic neuralgia, which occurs when the herpes zoster rash is no longer present, but the pain remains for months or even years.
The first herpes zoster symptom is often burning or tingling pain, or sometimes numbness, in or under the skin. An individual may also feel ill with fever, chills, headache, or an upset stomach.
Herpes zoster pain can be mild or intense and is often described as unrelenting. People with herpes zoster sores on the torso may feel spasms of pain at the gentlest touch or breeze.
After a few days (48 to 72 hours) of early symptoms, a rash of small fluid-filled blisters, reminiscent of chickenpox, appears on reddened skin. The blisters seem to arrive in waves over a period of three to five days.
The blisters are usually limited to a specific band (called a dermatome) spanning one side of the trunk, around the waistline, or clustered on one side of the face. This differs from chickenpox (where the blisters are scattered all over the body). The distribution of the herpes zoster spots is a telltale clue to where the chickenpox virus has been hiding since the initial infection. Scientists now know that the location of the herpes zoster lesions corresponds to the dermatome supplied by a specific sensory nerve that exits from the brain or spinal cord.
After the blisters erupt, the open sores take a week or two to crust over. The sores are usually gone within another two weeks. The pain may diminish somewhat, but it often continues for months -- and can go on for years.
The torso and face are the parts most likely to be affected; but, on occasion, herpes zoster breaks out in the lower body. The burning sensation in the rash area is often accompanied by shooting pains.