Shingles lesions can occur anywhere on your body. Lesions on your face or in your mouth are less common but can be more serious. Lesions stop being infectious once crusted over but may take weeks to clear up.

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Unlike chickenpox, shingles is most common in adults over 60 years old.

The most recognizable symptom of shingles is a rash made up of clusters of shingles lesions. You may not always have rashes or lesions with shingles, but they typically signal an active infection.

Read on to learn more about how to identify shingles lesions, where they most commonly occur on your body, and how you can treat and manage them.

One of the earliest signs of shingles is tingling or burning in specific areas of your body. Shingles lesions often appear in these areas with noticeable signs and patterns, including:

  • resembling cauliflower in shape
  • consisting of small bumps topped with pus-filled blisters that may leak virus-containing fluid when damaged
  • appearing in a cluster, band, or stripe
  • showing up on only one side of the body at a time
  • taking on a reddish, pinkish, brownish, or purplish color, depending on your skin tone

Shingles lesions are most common around your waist and ribs in what’s called the shingles belt area. But they can also appear on your face or in your mouth.

Anywhere on your skin

Shingles most commonly occurs along dermatomes. These are areas of your skin that are dense with nerves that connect directly to your spine.

Dermatomes are everywhere on your body except for your face. The herpes zoster virus can travel along sensory nerve paths that run from your spinal cord outward to the skin, where the nerve paths end along the dermatomes.

It’s here that a shingles infection most commonly creates lesions. The major dermatomes around your ribs and waist are most susceptible to lesions caused by a shingles infection.

On your face or eyelids

Shingles lesions sometimes appear on one side of your face or eyelids. Lesions are much less common in this area, but also much more serious.

It‘s important to seek medical help immediately if you have shingles lesions on your face or eyes. Untreated or serious shingles infections can result in:

Shingles that affect your eyes is a medical emergency

Go to a local urgent care or emergency department right away if you have shingles lesions on your face or eyes.

Inside your mouth

Shingles lesions sometimes appear in your mouth. They occur in mucosal tissues susceptible to infection, especially if your immune system is weak from an illness or health condition.

Shingles lesions in the mouth are less common. If you do get them, you can irritate the lesions when you eat, swallow, or talk. This may cause the blister to open, which increases your risk of bacterial infection.

Shingles lesions in your mouth can also affect your sense of taste. A long lasting or serious infection can permanently alter your taste.

Can shingles cause lesions on your brain?

Shingles in the brain is extremely rare. But shingles can sometimes spread from your nerves into the spinal cord and brain. This is more likely if the shingles lesions appear on your face or eyes.

When this happens, your risk of having a stroke or meningitis — when membranes around your spinal cord and brain get infected — increases significantly.

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Shingles lesions often last about 3 to 5 weeks before they start to clear up.

Here’s an average timeline for shingles, from the earliest symptoms to when lesions begin to clear up:

  • Days 1 to 5: Lesions appear 1 to 5 days after tingling, burning, or itching starts.
  • Days 5 to 7: Lesions often turn into fluid-filled blisters.
  • Days 7 to 10: Blisters dry or crust over and become scabs.
  • Days 10 to 21: Scabs fall off and heal.

Does shingles leave scars?

Shingles lesions from mild infections don’t typically leave scars, especially if you don’t have any blisters that break open and leave scabs.

Be sure to treat scabs left behind by lesions with topical ointments or creams that can help heal skin. Broken blisters can cause scarring.

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Shingles does not have a cure. Treatment focuses on reducing the severity of your symptoms, preventing painful or long lasting complications, and helping lesions heal faster.

Seek treatment within 72 hours after you first noticed the lesions.

Some treatments for shingles lesions include:

  • oral antiviral medications to relieve pain and help you heal faster
  • topical creams or gels like lidocaine for pain and itching
  • anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce swelling from lesions
  • narcotic pain relievers for severe pain
  • anticonvulsants or antidepressants for chronic pain
  • antihistamines for itching

You can treat the symptoms of shingles lesions at home, too. Try some of the following methods to help relieve pain, itching, and other related shingles symptoms:

  • Use a cold compress to cool your skin and relieve pain.
  • Bathe in cool water to relieve pain and clean lesions.
  • Fortify your diet with foods rich in vitamins A, B12, C, and E.
  • Apply calamine lotion to help with itching.

Shingles lesions are only contagious if someone who has not had chickenpox or is not vaccinated against the varicella-zoster virus comes into contact with the fluid from an open, leaking blister. This is because the fluid inside the shingles lesions contains the varicella-zoster virus.

When someone who is unvaccinated against the virus or has never had chickenpox contracts the virus, they can then develop chickenpox. Once they’ve had chickenpox, they’re at risk for shingles — especially as they get older.

Crusted shingles lesions are not contagious.

Most shingles lesions go away in a few weeks with treatment and do not leave any noticeable scarring or side effects.

See a doctor within 72 hours after you notice shingles lesions to get the right treatment and help prevent serious infections or complications.