If you’ve had chickenpox, you’re at risk for getting shingles (herpes zoster) later in life. The shingles rash often appears as a rash under one breast and extends in a swath-like formation to the back.
Shingles is a viral infection. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. After having chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains dormant in the nerve cells near your spinal cord and brain. If triggered, the virus reemerges and moves along an affected nerve to the skin. There it multiplies, causing inflammation and pain.
Shingles causes a painful and itchy, blistering rash. It usually erupts as a wide, ribbon-like swath of blisters that wraps around the torso to the breastbone.
Shingles can affect other parts of the body like the side of the head and face.
Shingles rash under the breast is usually distinctive looking. However, rashes under the breast can also be caused by other conditions, making it hard to diagnose shingles at home. Learn how to identify, treat, and prevent a shingles rash under your breast.
Before shingles erupt, you may feel deep fatigue, or be overly sensitive to light. You may also have flu-like symptoms.
Skin sensations at the rash site is common. You may feel:
- pain, ranging from mild to intense
- sensitivity to touch, including light touch
A rash of fluid-filled blisters will appear within several days to 2 weeks after your first symptoms occur. This rash may appear in clusters, or it may form one large swath that resembles a burn.
In its early stages, shingles can look bright red, especially on pale skin. On dark or highly pigmented skin the rash may be red, skin-toned, or darker than the surrounding area.
No matter what your skin tone, the shingles rash will have fluid-filled blisters in it. When the blisters start to dry out and scab, the rash may turn brown on pale skin and grey on pigmented skin.
One clue that your rash is shingles is if it only appears on one side of the body. Another clue is the pain that often accompanies it.
Pictures of shingles under the breast on light and dark skin
Here’s what a shingles rash beneath the breast looks like on different colored skin in both males and females.
Other conditions that may cause a rash under the breast
Other conditions may cause a rash under the breast. These may have symptoms that distinguish it from shingles. For example:
|Condition||Rash and skin appearance||Pain||Itching||Other symptoms|
|Shingles||Red, fluid-filled blisters in a band on one side of the body||Yes||Yes||Fatigue, flu-like symptoms|
|Eczema||Redness, hives in a single cluster or multiple clusters. Flaky, dry skin||No||Yes|
|Dermatomyositis (a rare autoimmune disease)||Dusky red or purple rash around the neck and under the breast in a shawl shape||No||No||Muscle weakness, joint pain, fever|
|Psoriasis||Red patches covered in thick, silver scales. Dry, cracked skin||Yes||Yes||Burning and soreness. Thick nails. Swollen joints|
|Poison ivy||Red, itchy skin. Swelling and blisters.||Yes||Yes|
See a doctor if you suspect you have shingles
If you suspect you have shingles under the breast or anywhere on your body, see a doctor. Fast treatment with prescription antiviral medications can reduce the severity and longevity of this condition. It can also help reduce the possibility of complications, such as:
- skin infection caused by scratching blisters
- ongoing pain (postherpetic neuralgia)
- vision loss if the shingles rash is near your eye
You can’t get shingles unless you’ve already had chickenpox.
Anyone who has had chickenpox, either as a child or adult, can get shingles.
The varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox doesn’t leave the body, even after the illness resolves. Instead, it lodges in the nerve endings located near the spine and brain. Shingles occurs when the varicella-zoster virus becomes reactivated. The triggers for reactivation are not completely understood.
Most people who’ve had chickenpox will not get shingles. Some people have additional risk factors which put them at increased risk. Others may get shingles, even though they do not have additional risk factors.
Risk factors for shingles
Risk factors for getting shingles under the breast include:
- Age. Shingles can occur at any age, but it’s most common in people over 50.
- Weakened immune system. Conditions such as HIV/AIDS and cancer can weaken the immune system, making a person more prone to shingles.
- Radiation and chemotherapy. Treatment for cancer can leave you immunosuppressed, making shingles more likely to occur.
- Immunosuppression medication. If you have a transplanted organ such as a heart or kidney, the medications you take to avoid organ rejection may make you vulnerable to shingles. Steroids can also have this effect
- Stress. Living with stress for an extended period of time may negatively affect the immune system, increasing risk.
Prescription antiviral drugs can help reduce rash pain as well as hasten healing. They include:
In addition to antiviral drugs, talk to your doctor about pain relief medications, including:
- over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammation drugs such as ibuprofen
- prescription analgesics
- prescription narcotics
Topical treatments may also be used to reduce pain. These include:
It’s important not to scratch the rash. This can cause bacterial infections to form. To reduce itching, try oral or topical antihistamines.
Natural treatments to try
Natural treatments can also be used to sooth shingles and reduce itching under the breast, including:
- Lukewarm colloidal oatmeal bath. Avoid using hot or cold water in your bath. Cold water can increase skin sensitivity, while hot water can increase pain and slow healing of the blisters.
- Cool wet compresses. Apply cool compresses several times daily to cool skin.
- Topically applied witch hazel. Apply using a spray bottle or use in a cool compress.
- Baking soda paste. Mix baking soda with water until a paste-like consistency forms. Leave on the skin for up to 20 minutes. Rinse off with cool or warm water.
If you’re over 50, the best way to prevent shingles is to get the shingles vaccine. At one time, the Zostavax vaccine was your only option, but it is no longer available.
Shingles under the breast can be painful and itchy.
On lighter skin, the rash is typically red in color and has fluid-filled blisters. On darker skin, shingles under the breast may be red, skin-toned, or darker than your skin color.
Shingles can occur in someone of any age who has already had chickenpox. If you’re over 50, the best way to avoid shingles is to get the shingles vaccine.