How long a shingles infection lasts may vary individually. In general, shingles may last 3–5 weeks. Your symptoms may differ at every stage and prompt treatment may shorten the duration of the infection.

Shingles is an itchy, burning, and typically painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, the virus may live dormant in your system for years. If it reactivates, it will cause shingles.

You may experience shingles symptoms like localized itchiness, burning, tingling pain, and oozing blisters for up to 10 days. You may continue to see crusting and scabs from the rash for up to 5 weeks.

You may also get shingles more than once. This could happen a few months and up to 10 years after your first infection. Some people may never experience shingles again.

You can learn more about shingles recurrence here.

Symptoms of shingles may feel and look different depending on the stage of the infection and which nerve pathways are affected.

Early symptoms of shingles may appear before you see a rash on the affected area. These symptoms may last up to 5 days and include discomfort, tingling, or just a twinge under your skin. The sensation may be similar to having something constantly irritating your skin.

Early symptoms may appear anywhere on your body, usually on one side only. Even if you don’t see a rash, these spots will feel sensitive to the touch.

Usually within 5 days of the first symptoms, a rash will develop in the affected area. You may notice redness and swelling.

As the rash develops, small groups of liquid-filled blisters will also form. These blisters may start to ooze within 7–10 days after you first see a rash.

Oozing blisters from shingles may last 1–2 weeks and then begin to dry up and crust over to form scabs. You may see scabs for 1–3 weeks after that.

For some people, the rash may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including fever, light sensitivity, and a general feeling of being unwell. These symptoms typically last 1–5 weeks.

In rare cases, shingles may present without a rash, which makes it difficult to diagnose and treat.

You can learn more about what shingles look like here.

You may experience different levels of pain from day one until the blisters dry up at around week 5. However, shingles pain usually intensifies as a visible rash develops, about 4 or 5 days after you experience the first symptoms.

In some cases, you may experience shingles pain for about 3 months or longer. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia and relates to nerve damage.

You can read more on shingles pain here.

You may experience itching since day one of a shingles infection. The itching may stay mild or gradually worsen.

Itching from shingles typically lasts up to 5 weeks until all the scabs from the rash clear up. However, some people may experience itching after the shingles rash has cleared and this may last months or years.

You can learn more about itching from shingles here.

Although shingles may last 3–5 weeks, complications of an untreated infection may lead you to experience symptoms for longer.

Complications of shingles may include:

The duration of these complications may vary depending on your age, overall health status, treatment approach, and how soon you get a diagnosis.

In rare cases, untreated shingles may lead to death.

Healthcare professionals may recommend you start antiviral treatment for shingles within 72 hours of noticing signs of a rash.

Depending on your symptoms, treatment for shingles may include over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, including:

  • antivirals
  • anti-itch ointments, creams, and patches
  • antihistamines
  • anti-inflammatories

In some cases, they may also prescribe antidepressants or anticonvulsant drugs to help with pain relief.

A shingles outbreak may resolve on its own, although experts recommend you see your healthcare professional as soon as a rash appears. Prompt treatment may affect the intensity and duration of your symptoms and may prevent complications like prolonged pain.

You may also need to seek care if pain persists after the rash has cleared or if you have developed new symptoms.

If you haven’t received the shingles vaccine, your healthcare professional can explain if and when you need it.

You can read more about the shingles vaccine here.

Shingles may last 2–5 weeks with early symptoms developing before a rash becomes evident. Pain and itchiness may last past 5 weeks and become chronic, although they may resolve after some time.

Healthcare professionals recommend getting treated with antivirals within 72 hours of seeing a rash. This may decrease the intensity and duration of shingles and prevent future complications.