Like many viral conditions, shingles will resolve on its own, but it can take time. Treatment with antiviral medications can significantly speed up the process and reduce the risk of complications.

Generally, a case of shingles resolves within 2 to 4 weeks. It can resolve without treatment, but antiviral treatment can shorten the rash’s duration and severity.

This refers to the typical course a shingles rash takes, even with antiviral treatment:

  1. A person may develop a tingling sensation or pain in a certain area of the skin. They may also have other early symptoms, such as headache and sensitivity to bright light. This may last for several days.
  2. Next, a rash develops in the area over 3 to 5 days. The skin turns red, with fluid-filled bumps. During this time, a shingles rash can spread the virus that causes it to another person who hasn’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
  3. After 1 to 2 weeks, these fluid-filled bumps start to crust over. Once all scabs have crusted over, the rash can no longer spread to other people. It can then take a couple more weeks for the crusted areas to scab over and heal fully.

It’s a good idea to see a doctor whenever you have a case of shingles, no matter how mild.

Starting antiviral treatment soon after your symptoms start decreases the duration and severity of the rash and can also decrease the risk of complications. This can include postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles characterized by long-term, debilitating pain.

If your rash has mostly healed, it’s still a good idea to see a doctor so they can monitor the rash for changes or complications, such as a bacterial skin infection that forms on top of your existing rash.

Learn about mild shingles.

As shingles heals, the fluid-filled bumps stop oozing and crust over. When this happens, the shingles rash is no longer contagious.

Shingles scabs typically take a couple of weeks to fully heal and go away.

Learn more about shingles treatment and recovery.

It’s important to start antiviral treatment within 72 hours of developing a rash. This can shorten how long the rash lasts and decrease its severity.

Shingles cannot be spread over different areas of your body. For example, if you have an active shingles rash on your back, the fluid from the blisters cannot cause a new rash on your arm.

However, the fluid could potentially spread VZV to someone else if they’ve never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine.

Some people can develop disseminated herpes zoster, which is when the shingles virus causes a rash over multiple areas of the body. It can also affect other organs. This is more likely to happen in people who have weakened immune systems. This can include people who take medications that suppress the immune system or those with:

  • autoimmune disease
  • cancer
  • HIV

Learn about what causes shingles to activate.

While most cases of shingles are mild, several potential complications may require emergent care:

  • Facial rash: A shingles rash on the face is concerning because eye involvement can lead to blindness. This requires an urgent assessment from an ophthalmologist.
  • Loss of hearing or facial movement: Rarely, shingles can lead to hearing loss or facial nerve paralysis.
  • Disseminated herpes zoster: This widespread shingles rash can also affect your organs. It requires hospitalization with intravenous (IV) antiviral treatment.
  • Fever: Having a fever along with shingles can be concerning. It may mean you have a superimposed bacterial infection, which could require antibiotics and close observation.
  • Confusion or seizures: Shingles that occurs with confusion or seizures could indicate brain inflammation, which requires hospitalization for IV antiviral treatment and close monitoring.

Learn more about shingles complications.

Shingles can resolve on its own, but treatment with antiviral medications can reduce the risk of complications and speed up your recovery. Without treatment, your shingles rash may be more severe.

Shingles typically resolves within 2 to 4 weeks.

Dr. Megan Soliman is an ABMS board certified internal medicine physician whose main focus in her clinical practice is patient advocacy. Her research interests include adverse effects of medications and herbal supplements. Soliman is enthusiastic about “bread and butter” medicine, which includes treating patients with the most common diseases. She also has a passion for reaching underserved communities, including both U.S. and international rural communities.