Possible shingles?
July 17, 2022 5:23 AM   Subscribe

My skin is extremely sensitive and somewhat uncomfortable on my inner upper arm, and it might be spreading to my back. Could it be shingles? Should I see a doc now or wait to see if I get a rash?

I’m in my late 30s and I had a normal case of chicken pox at 4. Yesterday or the day before, the skin on my left inner upper arm started bothering me - the skin is extremely sensitive to touch, and even soft clothing feels abrasive. If I poke it, it’s fine - the pressure isn’t a problem, it’s like only the very surface of the skin is the sensitive part. From google, it sounds like this is called allodynia and is a type of nerve pain.

In the middle of the night last night, it occurred to me that it could be shingles. This morning, I’ve been looking for info, and the discomfort appears to be limited to the T1 dermatome on my left side. My lower inner arm is fine, and the T1 dermatome area of my back is a little tender, but I only noticed it after looking up all this info so that might be psychosomatic.

The skin looks totally normal - zero redness or rash. The tenderness/irritation is annoying and uncomfortable, but not painful.

I’m inclined to wait and see if it develops into a rash or gets worse, but if it’s shingles it seems like earlier diagnosis is better? But maybe I couldn’t be diagnosed anyway without a rash? I’m trying to decide if I should go to urgent care today, try to get in to the regular doctor tomorrow, or just wait and see.
posted by maleficent to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would go earlier rather than wait, the medication can be a huge help but is only effective in the first few days from what I was told. And the rash sucks.
posted by sepviva at 6:03 AM on July 17, 2022 [10 favorites]

This sounds exactly like how my shingles felt when it started. I’d say worth a trip to the doctor since, if it is, the sooner it’s treated the better.
posted by in a dark glassly at 6:37 AM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Given your age (under 50), it’s likely something else, though not unheard of that it could be shingles. If you have access to a doctor, always good to go when something is bothering you, though, so I’ll third that recommendation.
posted by eviemath at 7:26 AM on July 17, 2022

This is exactly how my shingles came on a few years ago (and I am about your age and had chicken pox around the same time as a kid); the rash took a couple days to show up (even in the same spot you are describing!) and ended up on the side of my rib cage as well, IIRC. It was an absolutely miserable experience so if you can nip this in the bud, I strongly suggest getting to urgent care today.

I actually recently thought I was starting to get it *again* so I was able to get a telehealth phone appt through my insurance, where I told the doc “I am 95% sure this is what this is and I have [x important event] coming up that I cannot be out of commission for, so would you please call in a prescription for me so if the rash shows up I can start taking it right away”. The doctor obliged, I was able to pick up Valtrex that day, and while in this latest instance the rash did NOT show up again (phew) I will not hesitate to do this if I ever think I’m getting it again (because it’s seriously awful). Be polite but a little pushy about it—it’s not like you’re hunting for narcotics and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get a just-in-case RX.
posted by lovableiago at 8:04 AM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Commenting again to add that I was 27 when I had shingles — your age does make it less likely but definitely not impossible!
posted by in a dark glassly at 8:19 AM on July 17, 2022 [9 favorites]

Go go go go to urgent care. I got shingles in my 30s and NO STARS WOULD NOT DO AGAIN.
posted by nkknkk at 8:19 AM on July 17, 2022 [9 favorites]

I can’t imagine why a doctor wouldn’t give you the antiviral just in case. It isn’t toxic and it really works like magic if it is shingles.
posted by gryphonlover at 8:43 AM on July 17, 2022 [6 favorites]

I had shingles last year and this is how it started. I thought it was my new bra chafing. Get an anti-viral within the first 48 hours of symptom onset for max effectiveness. If you can telehealth today, do it. The antivirals are not expensive and your symptoms will not be as severe or as lengthy if you start fast. Also pick up some ibuprofen for the pain.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:58 AM on July 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

I know the usual thing is that shingles is generally for the over-50s, but in the last few years of working at Urgent Care I have noticed a lot of people in their 20s 30s and 40s coming in who are diagnosed. The stress of the last few years seems to be bringing it out, perhaps. So I certainly wouldn't count it out based on age alone.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 9:10 AM on July 17, 2022 [11 favorites]

Agree with everyone else. I had shingles in my late 20s during a period of extreme stress, and it sucked. Get thee to urgent care / telehealth and get the antivirals. I'm not sure what it would've been like without them, but with them was still awful, so I really don't want to know and suggest you don't find out either.
posted by Alterscape at 9:33 AM on July 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

I had the same experience as others above. I was 38 and shingles never crossed my mind. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something, went to urgent care and they agreed. They gave me something for the allergy and I took the wrong kind of medication for a week until I could get into my regular doctor who quickly diagnosed shingles. Don't wait. Shingles was the most uniquely painful ailment that I have ever experienced.
posted by JennyJupiter at 10:08 AM on July 17, 2022

Yeah, I've had shingles three times as an adult and while they were minor cases having the antiviral early was best. I had to strongarm a doctor to give it to me in case 2 when no spots were visible yet (on my face, horribly painful.) Thank God she finally relented. Go now!
posted by The Adventure Begins at 11:02 AM on July 17, 2022

I had shingles at 45 and it started like this (I thought my armpit was reacting to a new deodorant at first). IT SUCKS. Go to Urgent Care ASAP.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:54 PM on July 17, 2022

One more, I had shingles last year (in the same dermatome) at 41 and it felt exactly like you describe at the start. It was awful, I wish I had gotten the early treatment.
posted by advil at 3:01 PM on July 17, 2022

seawallrunner mentioned ibuprofen for pain relief. In my case of shingles, pain relievers had no effect. The only thing that helped was capsaicin (walgreen's 1% cream worked). It is too strong, so thin it out with lubriderm or similar. It was the only thing that allowed me to sleep.
posted by H21 at 3:36 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I know so many people who had shingles in their 30s. I was 33 and it was THE WORST. I didn’t know what it was until it was too late to get antivirals. Would not recommend.
posted by lydhre at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I didn’t make it to urgent care yesterday, but I did get a same day appointment at my regular doctor’s office earlier this morning. The discomfort has increased, but I still wouldn’t call it pain - it kinda feels like a sunburn (tight and burn-y, but not hot the way sunburns are).

The doctor said she’s seen a lot of shingles in people my age lately and agreed that it seems like shingles, but said she can’t prescribe the antiviral unless there’s a rash. However, if/when I do develop a rash, I can send a message and she’ll prescribe it without another visit.
posted by maleficent at 11:39 AM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

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