Do shingles look like bug bites? (+3 observations)

In this article, we will discuss whether shingles look like big bites. We will also discuss some typical characteristics to differentiate between shingles and bug bites.

Do shingles look like bug bites?

Due to pink and red spots, shingles may look like bug bites. However, before the occurrence of shingles, you may experience pain and tingling sensations. The pain, blister formation, and appearance of red spots on one side of the body differentiate it from bug bites.

Shingles may look like bug bites to a layman, but the doctor would be able to easily differentiate shingles from bug bites. A doctor may only need to see the typical pain and blistering in a band (shingles girdle) on one side of the body to clinically diagnose shingles.

Some people may also confuse shingles with scabies, impetigo, contact dermatitis, and folliculitis. You should see your dermatologist if you have had chickenpox. The Shingle virus often remains dormant in the body and activates once the immunity goes down.

How to differentiate between shingles and bug bites?

There are many differences between shingles and bug bites, both pathophysiologically and visually. Some of the most common differences include:

Shingles Bug bites
Stays for longer periods, usually 2-3 weeks Goes away within a few hours

Shingles start with skin sensitivity, itching, and tingling sensation.

This is followed by a rash.

First, small lumps are formed, which is followed by itching.
Red or pink spots turn into a blister. Red or pink spots do not form blisters.
Blisters open up and form a crust on the skin’s surface No scarring
The hives are present on one side of the body, usually on the chest or back. Localized spots that may appear on any part of your body
Very painful. Temporary pain due to scratching.
The rash occurs due to viral infection The rash occurs due to an insect bite

How to know if you have shingles?

Shingles is an itchy and painful rash that develops on one side of the body, usually the chest, back, and shoulder. Patients often get a tingling and painful sensation in the areas where the shingles would most likely develop. This happens several days before the first visual appearance (1).

Once the rash starts, pink or red blotchy patches appear on the torso along nerve pathways. These spots are non-contagious at this stage, but soon develop blisters. Once the blisters are formed, the fluid contains live virus and can be transmitted to another person.

If the contagious fluid comes in contact with a noninfected person, he may develop chickenpox (not shingles). Sometimes later in life, shingles may occur. Once the blister bursts, a scab will form on the surface of the blister to heal the skin.

Shingles are often accompanied by fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. Fever may also occur before the rash appears. Shingles may affect your face, eyes, and vision. In rare cases, shingles may spread to other parts of the body, especially if the patient has a weakened immune system.

How to prevent and treat shingles?

According to the Center for Drug Control (CDC), shingles may take 2-3 weeks to treat. Recombinant zoster vaccine is the recommended vaccine to prevent the occurrence of shingles and other associated complications.

Within 2-3 days of blistering, you should consult your doctor to prevent the spread of shingles. Antiviral drugs like Acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are used to shorten the length and severity of shingles (2). However, Acyclovir may cause constipation.

If you have pain, you may take over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Liquid topical medications like calamine lotion, and warm oatmeal bath are also recommended for the blisters and associated itching.

If you ever had chickenpox in your lifetime, you are most likely to get shingles in the late 40s. You should not worry about getting shingles as it is not a life-threatening disease and the symptoms are easily manageable.

You should consult your doctor if you have extreme pain and irritation in the blisters. Do not scratch the blisters as they may spread the virus and leave a scar after healing.

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Oaklander AL. Mechanisms of pain and itch caused by herpes zoster (shingles). The journal of pain. 2008 Jan 1;9(1):10-8.


Johnson RW, Whitton TL. Management of herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia. Expert opinion on pharmacotherapy. 2004 Mar 1;5(3):551-9.