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Pharmacy First: shingles

The fourth module in our Pharmacy First service series looks at how pharmacy teams can help patients navigate the shingles service, as well as offering OTC advice and support for those who are ineligible.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. If a person has had chickenpox, the virus stays in their body and can become active again if their immune system is lowered due to stress, other illnesses, or treatments such as chemotherapy, which can shingles.

Symptoms of shingles

The main symptom of shingles is pain, followed by a rash that develops into itchy blisters which look like chickenpox. The shingles rash usually appears on one side of the body on the area of skin related to the affected nerve.

New blisters can appear for up to a week, becoming yellowish in colour, flattening and drying out a few days after appearing. Scabs then form where the blisters were, which may leave some slight scarring.

Sometimes symptoms such as headache; burning, tingling, numbness or itchiness of the skin in the affected area; a feeling of being generally unwell; or fever can develop a few days before the rash.

Most people with shingles experience a localised band of pain in the affected area, which may be a constant, mild to severe, dull or burning sensation. Some people experience sharp stabbing pains from time to time, and the affected area of skin will usually be tender.

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