What complications are there from shingles?
Most people do not have any complications. Those that sometimes occur include the following.
Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)
This is the most common complication. It is where the nerve pain (neuralgia) of shingles persists after the rash has gone. This problem is uncommon in people aged under 50. However, up to 1 in 5 people with shingles, over the age of 60, have pain that lasts more than a month. The older you are, the more likely it will occur. The pain usually eases gradually. However, in some people it lasts months, or even longer in a few cases.
Sometimes the rash becomes infected with germs (bacteria). The surrounding skin then becomes red and tender. If this occurs you may need a course of medicines called antibiotics.
Shingles of the eye can cause inflammation of the front of the eye. In severe cases it can lead to inflammation of the whole of the eye which may cause loss of vision.
Sometimes the nerve affected is a motor nerve (ones which control muscles) and not a usual sensory nerve (ones for touch). This may result in a weakness (palsy) of the muscles that are supplied by the nerve.
Various other rare complications
Examples are infection of the brain by the varicella-zoster virus, or spread of the virus throughout the body. These are very serious but rare. People with a poor immune system (immunosuppression) who develop shingles have a higher than normal risk of developing rare or serious complications. (For example, people with HIV/AIDS, people on chemotherapy, etc.)
Further reading and references
Immunisation against infectious disease - the Green Book (latest edition); Public Health England
Gagliardi AM, Andriolo BN, Torloni MR, et al; Vaccines for preventing herpes zoster in older adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Mar 33:CD008858. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008858.pub3.
Who is eligible for the shingles vaccine beyond 2016; Public Health England
Cohen JI; Clinical practice: Herpes zoster. N Engl J Med. 2013 Jul 18369(3):255-63. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp1302674.
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