Aging & Health A to Z
Diagnosis & Tests
Your healthcare provider will usually be able to tell if you have shingles by:
- Examining your skin
- Asking about your symptoms
- Asking questions about your medical history (such as whether you’ve had chickenpox, if your immune system is weak, your age, and other questions regarding risk factors)
In rare cases, the diagnosis might not be obvious. Your healthcare provider will scrape the blisters lightly to get a skin sample. This sample can then be tested for the presence of the shingles virus.
If you have no rash or blisters, and your provider still isn’t sure whether you have shingles, you may be sent for a blood test. However, this cannot confirm the diagnosis of shingles – only that you have an active infection.
See a healthcare provider right away
If you suspect shingles, you must contact your healthcare provider right away. But the situation is particularly urgent in the following circumstances:
- If the pain and rash occur near your eyes (including the tip of your nose). Shingles that affects the eyes can cause permanent vision loss.
- If the pain and rash occur near your ears. Shingles can cause permanent hearing loss.
- If you think you might have shingles and someone in your family or a close contact has a weakened immune system (from cancer treatments, HIV/AIDS, medications to prevent organ rejection after a transplant, chronic illnesses requiring long-term steroids, etc.)
- If the pain and rash is particularly painful and widespread.
Sometimes the pain is so intense that you may think you’re having a heart attack, or that your lungs or kidneys are failing. This can occur even before the rash appears. You must see a healthcare provider as soon as possible if symptoms like these occur so that the right diagnosis can be made.
Treatment must be started within 72 hours of the first symptoms to have a significant effect, but preferably even before the rash appears within the first 24 hours. This is why it is so important to see a healthcare provider right away.
Updated: May 2017
Posted: March 2012