Shingles can be distinguished from other infections because of the location and appearance of the rash, explains WebMD. The rash occurs in a small area, strip or band on one side of the body. Once the rash appears, fluid-filled blisters form.
Shingles develops in two stages, states WebMD. During the prodromal stage, pain, numbness, tingling, burning pain or a tickling sensation occurs near the affected nerves. These sensations can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before the rash appears. A person with shingles may also have swollen lymph nodes or experience diarrhea, chills and other flu-like symptoms.
The active stage is when the rash and blisters appear, notes WebMD. At first, the blisters contain fluid, but the fluid becomes cloudy after a few days. The rash is accompanied by pain that feels like needles piercing the skin. After about five days, the blisters break open, but once they crust over, it usually takes two to four weeks to heal completely. In some cases, it is difficult to distinguish shingles from scabies, herpes simplex virus and other infections that cause similar symptoms.
Some people develop a complication called postherpetic neuralgia after having shingles, explains WebMD. Postherpetic neuralgia is characterized by stabbing or burning pain around the site of the shingles rash, sensitivity to touch and chronic pain that sometimes lasts for months or years.