Can You Swim With Shingles

Can You Go Swimming if You Have Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful rash that occurs when the dormant chickenpox virus is reactivated in your body. The rash usually appears as blisters on one side of the face or body along a single nerve root. Shingles can be incredibly uncomfortable and cause symptoms like itching, burning pain, and tenderness. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with shingles, you may be wondering if swimming is allowed during the illness. Here is a comprehensive guide on whether can you swim with shingles, tips for keeping the rash clean and dry, how to reduce spread, and when it’s safe to return to swimming after having shingles.

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body. It results in a blistering skin rash, usually localized to one area on the body or face. symptoms of shingles are severe pain, itching, and tenderness. Many people wonder if swimming is allowed when you have an active case of shingles. Most doctors recommend avoiding swimming or using public pools and hot tubs until all shingles lesions and blisters have completely healed and dried up. Entering water can irritate the rash, make symptoms worse, and potentially expose blisters to contaminants. There is also a small risk of spreading the shingles virus in shared water. Overall, it is best to avoid swimming while you have weeping blisters and wait until several weeks after they have crusted over to resume swimming. Take precautions like covering lesions and showering after swimming if you absolutely must enter the water before symptoms have fully resolved.

How Active Shingles Rash Occur?

Reactivation of a dormant virus leads to shingles rash and blisters along specific nerve pathways, causing pain and skin irritation. The rash heals over time but neurological symptoms can persist.

  • Shingles result from the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which is the virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body’s nerves.
  • Years or even decades later, the virus can reactivate due to factors like aging, illness, stress, or a weakened immune system. This results in shingles.
  • With shingles, the virus travels along nerve pathways and affects a specific nerve that controls sensation in a localized area of skin. This is why shingles rashes are usually confined to one side of the body or face.
  • The virus causes inflammation and irritation along the affected nerve. This results in pain, itching, tingling, and extreme sensitivity in the area.
  • A few days after these early symptoms start, a shingles rash appears as red patches of skin that develop into fluid-filled blisters. The blisters may ooze or weep clear fluid.
  • The blisters typically scab over in 7-10 days but the rash can take 2-4 weeks to fully heal. Some people only get a mild rash while others develop a widespread, intense band of blisters.
  • Even once the rash resolves, people with shingles may continue to experience lingering pain, itching, or skin sensitivity for weeks or months. This is called postherpetic neuralgia.
  • Shingles blisters contain high levels of varicella virus and are contagious to others until crusted over. Direct contact with fluid can spread chickenpox.

Symptoms Of Shingles Rash?

Here are the most common symptoms associated with a shingles rash:

  • Blisters – Shingles cause a painful, blistering rash. Blisters usually appear after 2-4 days of early pain symptoms. The fluid-filled blisters may ooze at first and then crust over after about a week.
  • Skin sensitivity – The area where the shingles rash develops will become extremely sensitive to the touch. Clothing brushing over it can cause significant discomfort.
  • Localized pain – Shingles pain often precedes the rash and can be severe, burning, or throbbing. It is usually confined to the area where the rash eventually appears.
  • Itching – The rash is usually very itchy, especially as it begins to heal. Resist scratching, as it can cause scarring.
  • Tingling or numbness – Some people experience tingling, numbness, or nerve pain in the affected area. This may linger after the rash heals.
  • Headache – Some individuals develop headache pain on the same side as the shingles rash.
  • Fever – A mild fever may accompany a shingles outbreak, especially before the blisters appear.
  • Chills – Feeling cold, shivering, or having chills can coincide with early shingles.
  • Fatigue – Shingles may induce tiredness, lack of energy, and general malaise.
  • Lymph node swelling – Lymph nodes near the rash site may become tender and swollen as the body fights the virus.

While individual symptoms vary in intensity, the hallmark of shingles is a localized, blistering, and painful rash along a nerve path on one side of the body. Seeking early treatment can help minimize the severity.

Can You Swim With Shingles Rash?

Most doctors recommend avoiding swimming until the shingles rash has fully healed. There are a few reasons why swimming is not advised when you have an active shingles rash:

  • Increased risk of infection – Swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes, and oceans contain bacteria and viruses that can cause secondary skin infections if they come into contact with shingles blisters. The herpes zoster virus compromises the immune system already, making it easier to get sick.
  • Pain and discomfort – The shingles rash is incredibly painful, especially when water touches open blisters and sores. Chlorinated water and salt water can further irritate the inflamed rash.
  • Difficulty keeping rash clean and dry – It’s important to keep shingle lesions clean and dry to promote healing. Swimming causes wetness, washes off medicated creams, and can expose blisters to contaminants.
  • Spreading to others – While rare, it is possible to transmit the virus that causes shingles through direct contact between broken blisters and others. This risk is heightened in crowded pools.

For these reasons, doctors strongly recommend waiting until all shingles blisters have crusted over, dried out, and completely healed before swimming or using public pools and hot tubs. The shingles rash is highly contagious during the weeping stage when blisters are leaking fluid.

How to Keep Shingles Rash Clean and Dry for Swimming

If you go swimming with shingles before the rash has healed, it’s important to take precautions to keep the area clean and dry. Here are some tips:

  • Wear loose, breathable clothing over the rash while swimming. Avoid bathing suits that will rub against sensitive skin.
  • pat dry the rash thoroughly with a clean towel immediately after getting out of the water. Be very gentle.
  • Apply prescribed anti-viral creams or medications to the rash area after swimming to promote healing.
  • Cover the rash with clean bandages or dressings before putting on your bathing suit to create a protective barrier.
  • Rinse your bathing suit thoroughly after swimming to wash away any contaminants.
  • Shower gently after swimming using mild, unscented soap and avoid scrubbing shingles and blisters.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing over the rash after swimming and avoid restrictive fabrics that could stick to the skin.
  • Use a hair dryer in a cool setting to fully dry the rash area after patting it dry with a towel.

Keeping shingle lesions clean, dry, and covered during early healing can reduce irritation from swimming and prevent potential infections. Consult your doctor for guidance on bandages and ointments that are waterproof.

How to Reduce Spreading Shingles While Swimming

If you must go swimming before the shingles rash has fully resolved, be aware that the virus can spread in pools and lakes. Here are some precautions to take:

  • Wait until blisters have scabbed over – The oozing stage when blisters are leaking fluids is when shingles are most contagious. Wait until all blisters have crusted over.
  • Avoid public pools and hot tubs – The shingles virus can survive in chemically treated water. Stick to swimming in lakes or the ocean where water circulation reduces transmission risks.
  • Cover the rash – Keep shingles lesions covered with watertight bandages or dressings while swimming to block contact with others.
  • Avoid sharing towels or pool toys – Don’t share any personal items that may have touched active shingles blisters to reduce spread.
  • Warn pool staff if necessary – Discreetly inform lifeguards or staff if you have active shingles rash so extra precautions can be taken.
  • Shower immediately after – Shower right after swimming to rinse away any contaminants or viruses that may have contacted the rash.
  • Disinfect swimming gear – Thoroughly clean and disinfect any goggles, kickboards, or other swimming equipment after use.

With some care and common sense, it is possible to swim with mild shingles outbreaks while minimizing risks to yourself and other people. When in doubt, check with your doctor about the safest swimming options while recovering from shingles.

When Can You Resume Swimming After Having Shingles?

Once you have been diagnosed and treated for a shingles outbreak, you will need to wait until the rash and blisters have fully healed before it is safe to go swimming again. Here are the signs that indicate it is okay to return to pools and beaches:

  • All blisters have dried up and crusted over – There should be no seeping liquid or weeping blisters remaining. Scabs will start to fall off naturally.
  • No new blisters have appeared for at least 7 days – New blisters may continue developing for up to a week. Make sure no new ones have formed.
  • Mild swelling and redness have subsided – Inflammation, tenderness, and discoloration around the rash should significantly improve.
  • No pain or itching remains – The shingles rash area should no longer be painful, numb, or itchy before swimming.
  • Shingles treatment medications finished – Any prescribed antiviral drugs should be completed as directed to help avoid recurrence.
  • Doctor’s approval – Discuss with your physician and make sure they agree the shingles have sufficiently resolved before using pools.

Most doctors recommend waiting approximately two weeks after all shingles blisters have crusted over before resuming swimming. This allows ample healing time and reduces the small risk of transmitting the dormant virus. Use your best judgment and listen to your body – do not go swimming if you have any lingering pain, open wounds, or discomfort where the shingles rash occurred.


How To Treat Shingles Rash?

Here is a table on how to treat a shingles rash:

Treatment Description
Antiviral medications Prescription antiviral drugs like acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir can help shorten the duration of a shingles outbreak if started within 72 hours of the rash appearing.
Pain management Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin can help relieve shingles pain. Prescription medicines or numbing creams may be needed for more severe pain.
Cool compresses Applying a cool, wet compress to shingles blisters can help reduce swelling, pain, and itching. Use a clean towel soaked in cool water.
Calamine lotion Calamine lotion helps dry out blisters while also relieving itching. Apply it directly on the rash.
Wet dressings Wet dressings applied over the rash area can aid healing. Use gauze soaked in cool water or Burow’s solution.
Oatmeal baths Taking baths with colloidal oatmeal can help soothe inflamed skin and ease discomfort.
Loose clothing Wearing loose, breathable clothing avoids irritation and discomfort from fabric rubbing on lesions.
Anti-itch creams Over-the-counter hydrocortisone or pramoxine creams can temporarily relieve itching.
Avoidance of triggers Avoid anything irritating the rash like extreme temps, tight fabrics, stress, and harsh soaps.

The goals of at-home shingles treatment include easing pain, preventing complications like infection, and speeding up healing of the blisters. See a doctor immediately if symptoms worsen or persist.

What Is The Connection Between Swim With Shingles?

There is generally not a recommended connection between swimming and active shingles rashes. Most doctors advise against swimming until the shingles have fully healed due to the following risks:

  • Exposure to Bacteria – Swimming pools, lakes, oceans, and hot tubs contain bacteria that could infect open blisters and lesions from shingles. This could lead to a secondary skin infection.
  • Irritation – Chlorinated pool water and salt water can further irritate and inflame a shingles rash, causing stinging pain and worsening symptoms. Wet swimsuits rubbing on the rash can also aggravate it.
  • Difficulty Keeping Dry – It’s important to keep shingle rashes clean and dry as they heal. Swimming causes wetness that can delay the crusting of blisters.
  • Spreading Risk – Although low, there is a risk of spreading shingles through contact between weeping blisters and others sharing pool water.
  • Pain – Existing shingles pain will likely intensify with exposure to water. The weight of the water can also be uncomfortable.

The only exception is that some doctors approve swimming with a mild shingles outbreak if the rash is carefully covered and protected from direct contact with water. However, waiting until all blisters have crusted over and healed is universally recommended, which typically takes 2 to 4 weeks. After that point, swimming is safer and less likely to worsen post-shingles nerve pain.

Diagnosis Of Shingles Rash

Here are some key points about diagnosing a shingles rash:

  • Doctors can often diagnose shingles from the distinctive unilateral rash pattern and associated pain. No specific testing is needed in straightforward cases.
  • Lab tests like PCR assays or cultures of fluid from a blister can confirm the presence of the varicella-zoster virus. This may be done if the diagnosis is uncertain.
  • Doctors will ask about any recent chickenpox exposure, as that informs shingles risk. A history of chickenpox infection is a prerequisite for shingles.
  • Imaging like CT or MRI scans may be used to look for inflammation along specific nerves if the location of pain is unclear.
  • A Tzanck smear involves a microscopic examination of cells from a blister to check for viral infection.
  • Blood tests can detect antibodies to the varicella virus, confirming past exposure that makes shingles possible. But the results take time.
  • Doctors ensure the rash does not have signs of other conditions like contact dermatitis, impetigo, herpes simplex, or hives.
  • The characteristic shingles rash pattern follows a single dermatome (area of skin supplied by sensory nerves from a single spinal root).
  • Symptoms like localized pain preceding the rash support a shingles diagnosis.

While testing can help confirm shingles, doctors are often able to accurately diagnose it based on the distinctive unilateral rash, pain, and history of chickenpox infection. Prompt treatment is important either way.

Shingles Rash
Shingles Rash

How To Manage Shingles Rash By Natural Herbs & Remedies?

Here is a table on managing a shingles rash using natural herbs and remedies:

Remedy Method of Use Benefits
Aloe Vera Apply gel from the leaf directly to the rash Reduces pain, swelling
Calendula Use calendula cream on the rash Heals skin dries blisters
Chamomile Place cooled tea bags or diluted oil on the rash Eases itching
Oatmeal Baths with colloidal oatmeal or oatmeal paste Soothes itching and inflammation
Peppermint Apply diluted peppermint essential oil Cools and relieves pain
Licorice Root Licorice extract applied topically Anti-inflammatory
St. John’s Wort Infused St. John’s Wort oil Anti-viral promotes healing
Lemongrass Diluted lemongrass essential oil Reduces pain
Witch Hazel Apply witch hazel extract Dries blisters, calms irritation
Turmeric Turmeric paste Decreases inflammation and swelling

Always dilute essential oils properly and test on a small area first to check for skin sensitivity before wider application. It is best to consult a doctor when using natural remedies for shingles.

Natural Herbs For Shingle
Natural Herbs For Shingles Rash

Frequently Asked Questions About Swimming with Shingles

Many people have additional questions about if and how they can swim after being diagnosed with shingles. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

Can chlorine or salt water help heal shingles rashes faster?

No. Chlorine and salt water can actually further irritate and inflame the shingles rash. These chemicals do not provide any medicinal or healing benefits and may impede the healing process. It’s best to avoid swimming until the shingles have fully resolved.

Is swimming in the ocean safer than a pool with shingles?

There may be a slightly lower risk of transmission since ocean water has greater circulation and dilution. However, the risk of secondary infections may be greater in the ocean due to bacteria. It’s best not to swim in any body of water until your shingles have healed.

Can I swim if my shingles rash is covered by clothing or bandages?

Covering active shingles blisters provides some protection but does not make swimming completely safe. There is still the risk of irritation, pain, and potential viral spread from leaking blisters. It’s best to avoid swimming until all symptoms have subsided.

What if swimming is part of my physical therapy after shingles?

Discuss options with your physical therapist and physician. They may recommend waiting until shingles resolve or doing certain exercises at home if swimming is likely to compromise healing. Do not swim for therapy without medical supervision.

Is it okay to swim if I’m taking antiviral medication for shingles?

No, antiviral drugs help manage symptoms but do not mean the contagious virus has been eliminated. Doctors still advise avoiding swimming with an active shingles rash even if you are taking prescription medication for treatment.

Can I spread shingles to others at a swimming pool?

There is a very low risk of transmitting the virus through water if you swim when blisters are still seeping fluid. This risk decreases once the weeping stage has passed but it’s still smart to wait until all blisters have crusted over before swimming.

Last Words

Shingles can be an extremely uncomfortable illness that takes weeks to recover from fully. The rash and blisters need ample time to heal before it is safe to resume swimming without pain or potential spread. While it’s possible to swim with mild shingles cases by covering and protecting the rash, doctors recommend waiting until all blisters have dried out and no new ones have formed for 2-3 weeks. If you must swim with an active shingles outbreak, be very cautious and attentive to signs of irritation or worsening symptoms. With some care and patience during the healing process, it is possible to safely enjoy swimming again after dealing with painful shingles.


My name is Selina, a medical specialist blogger helping people access treatment for 5+ years. Although blogging awhile, only recently deeply engaged. This past year my most productive, providing hospital reviews and info on symptoms, diagnoses and diseases. Also offer guidelines to help readers navigate healthcare. Goal to continue increased content pace to assist many. Aim to facilitate treatment and empower advocacy through writing.

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