Shingles on the scalp: treatments and more


Shingles, also known as shingles , is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox . According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime. The risk of getting it increases with age. Fortunately, shingles rarely occurs more than once.

Shingles causes blisters, itching, and painful rashes anywhere on the body. These rashes are much more painful and more difficult to treat when they appear on the scalp. This is because the scalp is very sensitive and any pressure, such as brushing or brushing the hair, can cause blisters to break out and bleed.

Read on to learn about shingles on the scalp, including symptoms, causes, complications, diagnosis, and treatment.

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The first signs of shingles are burning, tingling, numbness, and sharp pain on the skin on one side of the body or face. The most common sites for shingles blisters are the waist, face, neck, chest, abdomen, and back.

Additional early symptoms of shingles may include:

Symptoms that appear a few days after the first symptoms appear include:

  • Itching, tingling, or burning in the affected area of the skin.
  • Redness
  • Increased rash
  • Blisters filled with fluid. They will break and then scabs will appear.
  • Weak or severe pain in the affected area of the skin.

A shingles rash usually affects nerve pathways, and the blisters usually form a line. The rash can also appear on one side of the face or on the scalp. On the face, a rash may appear near the eye or in the ear.

In addition to the painful blisters, shingles of the scalp can also cause headaches or weakness on one side of the face. This weakness can lead to sagging on the affected side of the face.


Shingles is caused by reactivation of the varicella -zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus can enter nerve tissues, where it will lie dormant for decades. Shingles occurs when a virus wakes up and travels back through nerve pathways to the skin.

Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for future shingles, usually in old age. Shingles is more common in people over the age of 50, and the risk increases with age.

Additional risk factors include:

  • A disease that weakens your immune system, such as HIV / AIDS .
  • Get cancer treatment: Radiation therapy or chemotherapy can lower your immune defenses and cause shingles.
  • Taking certain medications: Taking immunosuppressants after an organ transplant or long-term use of steroids like prednisone can increase the risk of getting shingles.
  • Prolonged stress or infection: Your immune system can be weakened if you are under a lot of stress or have an infection, which can increase your risk of getting shingles.

If you are not immune to chickenpox, either from chickenpox or after getting vaccinated against it, you could get the chickenpox virus from someone else. This often occurs through direct contact with open sores from shingles.

Although shingles may take some time to develop, you can catch the chickenpox virus. If you are not immune to chickenpox, you will develop it.

After you have had chickenpox, you are at risk for future shingles. While this means that shingles is not very contagious, you still need to be careful when caring for someone with open sores.


Shingles pain can last for weeks, months, or even years, often long after the skin symptoms are gone. This prolonged pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN occurs where there was a shingles rash, even after the skin has cleared. This pain can sometimes be so severe that it affects a person's quality of life.

According to the CDC, up to 18% of people with shingles will experience PHN. The risk of PHN increases with age, and older people are more likely to develop PHN and have prolonged and more severe pain than younger people. PHN is rare in people younger than 40 years old.

Shingles of the scalp can lead to hair loss due to excessive brushing or brushing during an outbreak. It can also lead to a condition called scarring alopecia or scarring alopecia. Hair loss occurs when shingles destroys the cells of the hair follicles responsible for the growth of new hair. Once these cells are destroyed, baldness becomes permanent.

Shingles can lead to other serious complications, including eye complications such as vision loss. In rare cases, shingles can lead to pneumonia , hearing problems, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), or death.

When should you contact a healthcare provider?

Call your doctor right away if you suspect you have shingles, especially if you are over 60 years old.

You should also seek medical attention for:

  • Pain and / or rash near the eye. If left untreated, shingles can cause permanent eye damage.
  • Pain, redness, or rash on the face.
  • A very painful and widespread rash.
  • Fever or malaise in addition to the rash.
  • The blisters have spread to other parts of the body.
  • Severe headache with a rash on the scalp or scalp.
  • Weakness on one side of the face

The National Institute on Aging recommends seeing a doctor no later than three days after shingles appear.


The first thing your healthcare provider will do when making a diagnosis is to look for a rash that has appeared on the skin or scalp. The shingles rash is the main symptom, and your doctor can often tell you that you have shingles simply by the appearance of the rash.

Your healthcare provider will also want to know about other symptoms you may have. Symptoms that commonly occur with shingles include fever, chills, nausea, and headache.

Shingles tests are not usually done unless the rash is sufficient to confirm the diagnosis. Your healthcare provider may test you for shingles if you are at higher risk for complications.

A shingles test can check for the chickenpox virus. This test can be done in two different ways. The first involves taking a blood sample from a vein and the second is taking a fluid sample from the blister. Both tests look for antibodies to the virus . A blister test can also detect a virus.

Watch out

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment with antiviral drugs and self-medication can speed healing and reduce the risk of complications.


Antiviral medications can slow the progression of shingles. These medications should be taken within the first 72 hours after the signs of shingles appear. They can prevent the rash from spreading or getting worse and reduce the chance of complications.

Antiviral medications that your doctor may prescribe include acyclovir, famciclovir, or valaciclovir. Talk to your doctor about the side effects associated with these medications.

You can take over-the-counter pain relievers to relieve mild pain and swelling from shingles and blisters. Over-the-counter pain relievers that can help include ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen.

If you continue to experience severe pain after the rash and infection are gone, your doctor may prescribe treatment. This could include:

  • Capsaicin cream to reduce pain and swelling of the skin.
  • Pain reliever, such as lidocaine .
  • Antibiotics to treat bacteria on the skin.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants to relieve skin pain that persists after the shingles has healed.

Home care

If you have blisters on your scalp, brushing or brushing your hair can cause skin sensitization. Take care when brushing or brushing to avoid rubbing the rash or forming a blister. Brushing the scalp too much can lead to scars that destroy hair follicles.

Other ways to manage scalp pain and itching and prevent permanent damage include:

  • Apply cold compresses to the affected area of the scalp.
  • Apply calamine or menthol lotion to the scalp to relieve pain and itching.
  • Avoid harsh or perfumed hair shampoos. Instead, use mild, fragrance-free cleansers.
  • Avoid rubbing when washing your hair
  • Pat your hair dry after washing.
  • Use lukewarm water when washing your hair.
  • Avoid hairspray and other hair products.

Ask your doctor about other creams that can help relieve shingles on the scalp and relieve itching.


Shingles with a rash, no matter where the rash is, can take up to five weeks to fully heal. Even without a rash, symptoms can go away in five weeks.

For most people, the lesions heal, the pain goes away, and the blisters do not heal. However, people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for complications and may find that treatment takes longer or they may have prolonged pain after the rash clears.

Shingles can be very painful. The best way to improve your prognosis is to seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as you experience symptoms.

The best option is to do everything you can to reduce your risk of getting shingles. If you've had chickenpox in the past, ask your doctor about the shingles vaccine. If you haven't had chickenpox, ask your doctor about the chickenpox vaccine .

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