Complications of Shingles

Long-term Nerve Pain is the Most Common Complication

The most common complication of shingles is long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (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 due to shingles

PHN occurs in the areas where the shingles rash was, even after the rash clears up. It can last for months or years after the rash goes away. The pain from PHN can be so severe and debilitating that it interferes with daily life.

About 10 to 18% of people who get shingles will 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 rarely experience PHN.

Other Complications

Shingles may lead to serious complications involving the eye, including blindness. Very rarely, it can also lead to

  • pneumonia,
  • hearing problems,
  • brain inflammation (encephalitis), or
  • death.