Shingles Symptoms – What to Do at Each Stage

Shingles Symptoms – What to Do at Each Stage

Article by Dr. Dennis Clark, PhD

Shingles symptoms from the herpes zoster virus derive from outbreaks in the two primary tissues for herpes viruses – nerve tissue and skin tissue. When a latent virus has the opportunity to bloom, even decades after the initial chickenpox outbreak, the primary symptoms show up in the ends of nerves just under the skin, then the skin itself. Nevertheless, several helpful strategies for reducing an outbreak and diminishing the effects of the aftermath are important for getting through a bout of shingles.

Phase 1: The Prodromal Stage

First timers with are often surprised with the diagnosis of shingles. They may start out feeling as though they have the flu – fever, chills, headache, and nausea. These are merely the symptoms of shingles that appear before the rash breaks out. Medical people call this pre-rash phase the prodromal stage.

Although these viruses are out of reach from your immune system when they are latent and also when they are traveling through nerve fibers, the prodromal stage is still a good time to boost your immunity in preparation for the outbreak that is coming. Herbs that have antiviral and immune-boosting activity would be most helpful at this time (e.g., creosote bush). Antiviral drugs suppress the immune system, which makes such drugs seem like a bad idea right when you want to get your body ready for the battle.

A rash may not appear for another 2 to 5 days after the prodromal stage begins. As the appearance of the rash approaches, several additional symptoms appear. These include numbness, a tingling or burning sensation, burning pain, or itching.

Phase 2: The Eruptive Stage

This is when the blisters and pain that normally characterize a shingles outbreak become apparent. Blisters filled with clear fluid may continue to appear for up to 5 days. They look a lot like chickenpox. Although blisters typically occur on just one side of the torso, they occasionally encircle the body. They may also appear in other places, including buttocks, arms, legs, and face.

Shingles blisters can be intensely painful or merely mildly itchy or irritating. Many sufferers feel the need to wear loose clothing so as to keep anything from touching the skin. The eruptive stage can continue for two weeks, during which time the blisters become filled with pus and then begin to scab over. By the time scabs begin to form, the outbreak no longer contains any virus particles. Ideally, the rash disappears within 3-5 weeks.

It is best to apply creams or lotions that contain antiviral herbs as soon as an outbreak begins, or even just before the first blister appears. Creosote bush, soapbark tree, and lemon balm are generally available for such topical applications. Prescription drug creams also work at this stage. You may have to experiment to find which kind of product helps you the most. My choice is for natural products.

Long-Term Pain: Post-Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

Some people experience continued severe pain (i.e., PHN) that may last months or even years. PHN can be extremely painful and very difficult to handle. Antiviral drugs are ineffective for PHN because the virus is already gone by the time it sets in. Symptomatic treatment of the pain and inflammation offers the most effective help for PHN.

Anti-inflammatory creams and oils that DO NOT contain warming ingredients (such as capsaicin) will help keep down the pain-causing inflammation. General products that offer help for inflammatory skin disorders can be helpful. A short list of these would include emu oil, vitamin E oil, creosote bush lotion, and lemon balm cream.

What Else Can You Do?

Diet, nutrition, vitamins, amino acids, herbs, and even tai chi have effects on shingles. Sometimes the effects are positive and sometimes they are not. A few of the best general strategies are outlined in a short report that I wrote, available at no charge, through my blog at

About the Author

Dr. Dennis Clark, PhD, retired after 30 years as a professor at Arizona State University. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and owns a retail nutrition store in Tempe, AZ. Get his free report, “Controlling Shingles Naturally,” when you visit him at

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