Herpes zoster (shingles) is a type of viral infection known for causing painful rashes that most often develop on your torso but may occur anywhere on your body. This includes your arms.
If you suspect a rash on your arm could be shingles, it’s important to seek medical attention to prevent possible complications associated with this viral infection. Here’s what’s important to know about shingles on the arms, including the common symptoms and treatment options.
Shingles causes a blistering, painful rash that occurs on one side of the body only and
For example, if you have this viral infection, you might experience shingles along one side of your torso, as well as nearby areas on the same side of your body.
While not as common, the shingles virus can cause the same painful rash on your arms. If you do have shingles, it will affect one arm only. The rash can also impact areas on the same side of your body as the affected arm.
In some cases, shingles can cause more widespread rashes, similar to chickenpox. This is an exception that tends to occur in people who might have a weakened immune system (immunocompromised).
Shingles arises from the same virus as chickenpox, and may cause rashes in similar areas of the body. Just as chickenpox can develop in your armpits, so can shingles rashes.
Keep in mind that having a rash in both armpits does not usually indicate shingles, as this viral infection tends to only affect one side of the body at a time.
You can still get shingles on your hands even though it’s not as common as having the rash appear on your torso. The rash may even develop on the palms of your hands.
If you have a painful, blistering rash on one side of your body, such as one arm, and you previously had chickenpox, you may be experiencing shingles.
This includes the following symptoms:
- Rash: This tends to develop in a stripe-like pattern, and it’s also painful.
- Discomfort before a rash appears: In some cases, you might experience pain, tingling sensations, burning, or itching in the same areas of the body 1 to 2 days before a shingles rash develops.
- Blisters: These develop on top of the rash and tend to scab within
7 to 10 daysbefore healing after 2 to 4 weeks.
Additionally, shingles can cause non-skin-related symptoms that are similar to other viral infections. These may include:
It’s important to get medical help as soon as you suspect you might have shingles, ideally within 2 days of developing symptoms. While the associated rash is not as common on the arms as other areas of the body, regardless of where the rash presents, a doctor can help make a diagnosis so you can undergo treatment.
Even if you’ve had a possible shingles rash on your arm for longer than 2 days, it’s important that you still see a doctor to receive medical help. Aside from the discomfort that a shingles arm rash can cause, untreated shingles can possibly lead to complications developing. Examples include:
- postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a type of long-term nerve pain that develops where your shingles rash was
- loss of eyesight if the rash also develops around your eyes
- hearing loss
- brain swelling (encephalitis)
A doctor will likely prescribe antiviral medication to help treat the underlying virus that’s causing shingles rashes. Examples of these medications include:
Once you’ve started antiviral treatment, shingles rashes — including those on your arms, armpits, or hands — will begin improving. Also, taking antivirals within 3 days of developing shingles can help alleviate the pain the rashes cause, while also decreasing the time your symptoms are active.
Additionally, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, which may help alleviate the discomfort that the shingles rashes on your arms cause. Be mindful that according to one 2022 review, pain relievers may not be helpful in severe cases, which may last more than 4 weeks.
If you’re experiencing itchiness, you might consider trying other home remedies like:
- taking colloidal oatmeal baths
- applying calamine lotion
- applying cool compresses to the rashes
It’s estimated that
For some people, a painful rash on one arm is one possible symptom of shingles. If you suspect you might have shingles, consider seeing a doctor right away for an evaluation. They can help quickly diagnose shingles and get you the treatments needed to help prevent complications.