Complications of Shingles

Can I Experience Long-Term Complications from Shingles?

It is possible to experience lingering effects and complications from shingles long after the blisters have cleared.

Postherpetic Neuralgia

The most common complication of shingles is on-going nerve pain. This is a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia or PHN. The shingles virus damages delicate nerve fibers, which then send exaggerated pain messages from the skin to the brain. The pain of PHN can last for months or even years after the actual rash has cleared. The risk for PHN increases with age. Approximately one-third of untreated individuals over the age of 60 develop postherpetic neuralgia. PHN is also more common in individuals with weakened immune systems due to other health conditions, such as HIV or diabetes.

Disseminated Zoster

In some cases, the shingles rash can spread over large portions of the body and impact the liver, heart, lungs, intestinal tract, joints, and pancreas. If the infection attacks the nerves that control movement, the patient may experience temporary weakness.

Cranial Nerve Complications

If the infection affects certain nerves originating in the brain, an individual may experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Intense ear pain, hearing loss, or ringing in the ears.
  • Numbness, pain, or inflammation in one or both eyes. In some cases, shingles can even lead to vision loss.
  • Temporary paralysis in the face.
  • Possible inflammation and blockage of blood vessels, which can lead to stroke.
Scarring and Infection

The shingles rash can lead to permanent skin discoloration and scarring. Blisters can also rupture, which creates a risk of skin infections.

Preventing Shingles Complications

Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk for developing shingles. The best way to prevent shingles and its complications is to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that anyone over the age of 60 get the vaccine. The vaccine is readily available at most pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Prompt treatment can reduce the duration and severity of the shingles outbreak. The most common treatments are antiviral medications, including famciclovir, valacyclovir, and acyclovir. These treatments are most effective if started soon after the rash appears. Prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers may be used to treat shingles pain. Home remedies, such as colloidal oatmeal baths, wet compresses, and calamine lotion may help relieve the itching caused by the shingles rash. It is possible for a person with active shingles to pass the virus to an individual who has never had chickenpox. To prevent the spread of the virus, individuals with shingles should avoid touching the rash, practice good hand hygiene, and keep the rash covered until it develops a crust.

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