Complications of Shingles

Long-term nerve pain is the most common complication of shingles

The most common complication of shingles is long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN.

Five years later, I still take prescription medication for pain. My shingles rash quickly developed into open, oozing sores that in only a few days required me to be hospitalized. I could not eat, sleep, or perform even the most minor tasks. It was totally debilitating. The pain still limits my activity levels to this day.”

—A 63-year-old harpist who was unable to continue playing because of shingles

PHN occurs where the shingles rash was located, even after the rash clears up. It can last for months or years after the rash goes away. PHN is extremely painful and can interfere with daily life.

  • About 10% to 18% of people who have shingles experience PHN. Your risk of PHN increases with age.
  • An older adult with shingles is more likely to develop PHN and have longer lasting and more severe pain than a younger person with shingles. People younger than 40 years old rarely experience PHN.

Other Complications

Shingles can lead to serious complications involving the eye, including vision loss.

The shingles rash can also become infected with bacteria.

Very rarely, shingles can also lead to:

  • Infection of the lungs (pneumonia)
  • Hearing problems
  • Brain inflammation (encephalitis)
  • Death

People with weakened immune systems are more likely to have complications from shingles. They are more likely to have a severe, long-lasting rash.