Shingles (Herpes Zoster) - Complications

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.

See separate leaflet called Postherpetic Neuralgia for more details.

Skin infection

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.

Eye problems

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.

Weakness

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.)

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Author:
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
4328 (v48)
Last Checked:
20 June 2016
Next Review:
20 June 2019

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.