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Complications of shingles

Possible complications of shingles include:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia. This common complication of shingles (herpes zoster) lasts for at least 30 days and can continue for months to years. Postherpetic neuralgia can cause persistent pain, facial nerve problems, and headaches.
  • Disseminated zoster, a blistery rash that spreads over a large portion of your body and affects the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, joints, and intestinal tract. Infection can also spread to nerves that control movement, which may cause temporary weakness.
  • Herpes zoster ophthalmicus, a shingles rash on the forehead, cheek, nose, and around one eye, which could threaten your sight. Immediate treatment is necessary for this type of shingles.1 See a picture of herpes zoster ophthalmicus camera.gif.
  • Cranial nerve complications. If shingles affects the nerves originating in the brain, complications may include:
    • Inflammation, pain, and loss of feeling in one or both eyes. The infection may threaten your vision. See your ophthalmologist if shingles affects your eyes. Also, a rash may appear on the side and tip of the nose (Hutchinson's sign).
    • Intense ear pain; a rash around the ear, mouth, face, neck, and scalp; and loss of movement in facial nerves (Ramsay Hunt syndrome). Other symptoms may include hearing loss, dizziness, and ringing in the ears. Mouth sores and loss of taste in the tongue also may occur.
    • Infection of the central nervous system, which may cause inflammation, and possibly blockage, of blood vessels. This can lead to stroke, paralysis, or death.
  • Reduced sensitivity or a loss of feeling after shingles heals.
  • Scarring, skin discoloration, or bacterial infection of the blisters.


  1. Gnann JW, Whitley RJ (2002). Herpes zoster. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(5): 340-346.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Alexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology
Last Revised March 9, 2009

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 09, 2009
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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