The main symptom of shingles is a painful rash with blisters. Eventually, these blisters turn into dry, hard tissue known as scabs.
Shingles scabs, like other types of scabs, indicate that your skin is healing and help protect the skin underneath. However, it can take several weeks for the scabs to fully heal. That’s why it’s important to care for these scabs, even after your blisters have cleared up.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection caused by varicella-zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Varicella-zoster can remain in your body after a chickenpox infection subsides. A healthy immune system can keep the virus inactive. However, if your immune system becomes weakened, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles.
In the early stages, shingles can cause a tingling, burning rash that’s limited to one side of the body. Other early symptoms can include:
- upset stomach
After 2 or 3 days, the following symptoms typically appear:
- a pink, red, or brown rash with fluid-filled blisters on top of it
- a moderate-to-severe burning sensation
These symptoms usually last about 5 days. Often, the rash and blisters appear in the shape of a band.
If you think you have shingles, contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Early treatment can help reduce your symptoms and the risk of complications, including long-term pain known as postherpetic neuralgia.
Shingles scabs develop when your blisters dry up. The blisters that form on the rash usually start to scab within 7 to 10 days. These scabs are usually dry and flat and can be red, brown, or yellowish in color.
Since shingles blisters affect just one side of the body, the scabs will only appear on one side as well. This is different from most other skin conditions, which typically affect both sides of the body.
Other common skin disorders might cause peeling (as in eczema) or white patches (as in psoriasis). Shingles scabs usually don’t have these characteristics.
The following images show what shingles scabs look like:
If your blisters begin to scab, it means your shingles rash is starting to get better. It’s still important to take care of your skin, though. This involves protecting your scabs to ensure they aren’t broken or removed from your skin.
Taking proper care of shingles scabs is the best way to promote healing and avoid complications, like scarring.
Until all your blisters have scabbed over, it’s still possible for shingles to be transmitted to others. In the meantime, it’s best to avoid contact with newborns, elders, and those who are immunocompromised.
Here’s what you can do to care for shingles scabs and reduce discomfort:
- Apply topical lidocaine or capsaicin. Topical creams that contain capsaicin or lidocaine can help block pain messages from your skin to your nerves. If over-the-counter products aren’t effective, your doctor can prescribe lidocaine or capsaicin patches that contain stronger formulations of these ingredients.
- Soak in oatmeal baths. A cool oatmeal bath may also help ease the pain of shingles scabs. This is because of the anti-inflammatory properties of oatmeal.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. Baggy, loose-fitting clothing will feel more comfortable than clothing that rubs against your skin.
- Take medication as prescribed. Depending on the severity of the pain of your shingles scabs, your doctor may prescribe oral medication that blocks pain signals to your nerves. It’s important that you take this medication exactly as described.
What not to do
As your shingles blisters start to scab, be sure not to:
- Touch or scratch your scabs. This can break the scabs and cause scarring. You might also introduce harmful bacteria into your skin that can cause an infection.
- Use thick ointments. Thick ointments will keep the scabs moist, which may increase the risk of infection. Try to keep your scabs dry instead.
- Wrap your scabs. Avoid bandages or dressings, which can stick to your scabs. It’s best to keep them uncovered and dry.
- Wear tight clothes. Tight, restrictive clothing will rub against the scabs and further irritate your skin.
Even as your blisters start to scab, you might still develop new ones for about a week. That’s why it’s essential to keep protecting your skin as it heals.
Shingles scabs will take about 2 to 4 weeks to heal. The exact time frame will be different for each person. It depends on several factors, including the severity of your rash and how soon you get treatment.
However, even after the scabs have cleared up, the pain and discomfort can last for several weeks or months.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about
It’s important to contact a doctor within 72 hours of developing a shingles rash. The sooner you can get a proper diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment for shingles.
Early treatment can help shorten the length of your infection and reduce the risk of possible complications.
To help ease the pain and sensitivity of the shingles rash and scabs, your doctor may prescribe oral gabapentin or pregabalin.
You should also contact a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- blisters or scabs that won’t heal
- signs of a skin infection, like pus or swelling
- worsening or ongoing pain after the scabs heal
- persisting fatigue or fever after the rash heals
- new blisters or scabs
- redness that is spreading to other locations
Shingles causes a painful, sensitive rash with blisters on top of it. As these blisters dry up, they form scabs. Shingles scabs are typically flat, dry, and can be dark red, brown, or yellowish in color.
In most cases, the scabs will go away in 2 to 4 weeks. However, the pain and discomfort might linger for longer.
To prevent complications, avoid scratching your scabs or wearing tight clothing. Remedies like topical lidocaine or capsaicin cream and oatmeal baths may help ease discomfort. If your scabs get worse or don’t heal, contact a doctor as soon as possible.