What Problems Can Shingles Cause?

When you have shingles, you tend to focus on the short-term -- how to get relief from the pain and discomfort you have right now. For that, you have a lot of treatment options, from medicines to alternative therapies.

Shingles is a viral infection. The main symptom is a rash, usually on one side of your body. Typically, it hurts, burns, itches, and tingles. It may also give you a fever or headache and make you feel really tired.

Most of the time, your symptoms go away in less than a month. But for some people, complications come up.

While shingles itself is almost never life-threatening, it can lead to serious problems, such as the loss of eyesight.

If you think you have shingles, check with your doctor.

Early treatment may not only limit how bad your symptoms get, but might also help you avoid long-term problems. These can include:

Postherpetic Neuralgia

Postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN, is the most common problem that shingles causes.

Your symptoms usually go away when the rash is gone. But with PHN, you may feel pain, itching, burning, and tingling for months after the rash has healed.

It’s more common in older people. Sometimes, it starts to get better after a few months. In other cases, it lasts for years and could be permanent.

Your doctor may suggest different medications or therapies to help with this neuralgia.

Eye Problems

If you have shingles in or near your eyes, forehead, or nose, see your doctor right away. Without treatment, it can lead to pain in your eyes but also to permanent loss of vision.

Shingles in your eyes can cause:

  • Sores and scarring on the surface
  • Swelling and redness
  • Glaucoma, a disease in which pressure builds in your eye
  • Damage to the nerves

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

See your doctor as soon as possible if you get shingles on or around your ears. If you don’t get treated, it can lead to Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which can cause:

This condition is rare, but with early treatment, you have a good chance of full recovery.

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Skin Problems

The shingles rash comes with blisters that break open and crust over. Keep them clean and dry so you don’t get a bacterial infection. If you do get one, you may be more likely to get scars.

If you begin to run a high fever, check with your doctor. You might have a bacterial infection.

Swelling

In very rare cases, shingles can lead to inflammation or swelling in your lungs, brain, liver, and spinal cord.

You should get regular care for shingles so your doctor can check for even these uncommon kinds of problems.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 13, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Shingles.”

National Health Service (NHS): “Shingles.”

CDC: “Shingles (Herpes Zoster).”

NIH, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Shingles: Hope Through Research.”

NIH Senior Health: “Shingles.”

National Institute on Aging: “Shingles,” “How Long Does Shingles Last?”

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