What I Thought Was Eczema Turned Out to Be Shingles

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patient Leader Cora Lyn Sears and originally appeared on our partner site AtopicDermatitis.net. She describes her experience of having shingles while living with other health conditions.

I recently went through a rough few weeks with a bout of shingles. You know the one they tell us we should all get the vaccination for? I didn’t listen. I was always going to get around to it, but everything else got in the way. Besides, I had had shingles over 10 years ago, so maybe I was less likely to get it again.

All excuses. I kept putting it off. But I have learned my lesson. This time I will get that vaccination, although I have been told I now must wait a year after this outbreak.

This is not something anyone wants to have happen, especially during a pandemic, when our overworked doctors are especially booked. Telehealth to the rescue.

Red bumpy patches start to burn

It started out very innocuously, with an odd-feeling sore throat and ear just on one side that lasted less than a day. I also had a very sore spot just below that ear. Then what I thought were eczema patches started below the ear, on the back of my neck and head. All on just one side.

The red bumpy patches were sore and itchy, and my cortisone cream didn’t seem to do anything. But it wasn’t until they became a more burning type of pain that I started to consider something other than eczema. By the time I spoke with the doctor, one side of my face was starting to tingle as well. Definitely not eczema! The red bumps were itchy, burning clusters.

A trip to the emergency room

Since the doctor wasn’t able to see me in person, I was sent to the ER. All the while, I was worrying that these “eczema patches” were putting me in jeopardy of coming in contact with COVID-19. There are almost no positive cases where I live, but it only takes one!

With no hair in the way, as I have alopecia universalis, the doctors were able to easily see the three main clusters. The band of my wig sitting right on top of one cluster was uncomfortable, to say the least. After a few hours and many tests to rule out anything else, they sent me home with a diagnosis of “probably” shingles. They said, "Go home and watch to see if the little red bumps become blisters."

They started to the next morning. I began the antivirals immediately. Thank goodness for medicines! And thank goodness I took advantage of telehealth and called when I did!

I begin to heal

As the clusters slowly dried up and scabbed over, it made for an interesting Christmas and New Year's. The areas around these clusters are now more dry, flaky, and itchy than painful. This definitely feels like eczema, just in places I have never had eczema before.

I am hoping that it will be a one-time flare, not the start of a recurring problem area. I really don’t want to have the band of my wig always sitting on top of an eczema flare. Of course, I could get brave and just go out bald!

I am very lucky that the pain has not turned into postherpetic neuralgia, a long-lasting painful reminder of shingles. It can be quite painful and is more common in older adults.

If you are over 50, please get the shingles vaccine!

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