Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that can cause a painful rash. The rash usually appears in a band or a small area on one side of the body and is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. Shingles can lead to several complications, including:
- Postherpetic neuralgia: This is the most common complication of shingles, and it occurs when the pain caused by the rash continues for months or even years after the rash has healed. This condition can be very debilitating and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life.
- Vision loss: Shingles that affect the eyes can lead to vision loss or even blindness. This is because the virus can cause inflammation in the eye, damage the cornea or cause scarring on the retina.
- Bacterial skin infections: The rash caused by shingles can become infected with bacteria, leading to cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that can spread quickly.
- Neurological problems: In rare cases, shingles can cause inflammation in the brain or spinal cord, leading to meningitis, encephalitis or myelitis.
- Facial paralysis: Shingles that affect the facial nerve can cause temporary or permanent paralysis of the face.
- Hearing problems: Shingles that affect the ear can lead to hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Disseminated herpes zoster: This is a rare but potentially life-threatening complication of shingles, in which the virus spreads to other parts of the body and causes widespread rash, organ failure, and sepsis.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have shingles, especially if you are over 60, have a weakened immune system, or have symptoms that suggest shingles is affecting your eyes, ears, or brain. Early treatment with antiviral medication can help reduce the risk of complications.