Complications from shingles in the elderly can lead to serious, long-term health problems. They range from bacterial skin infections that can cause scarring and narcotizing fasciitis to hearing and vision loss, encephalitis, transverse myelitis, peripheral motor neuropathy, and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
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.
For adults who are otherwise fairly healthy, shingles is not life threatening, though it can be quite uncomfortable. However, when left untreated, shingles may cause complications. For certain people — such as those over the age of 65 or whose immune systems are compromised — these complications could lead to death.
The 4 stages of shingles and how the condition progresses
Very rarely, shingles can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation (encephalitis) or death. For about one person in five, severe pain can continue even after the rash clears up. This pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia.
Postherpetic neuralgia (post-hur-PET-ik noo-RAL-juh) is the most common complication of shingles. The condition affects nerve fibers and skin, causing burning pain that lasts long after the rash and blisters of shingles disappear. The chickenpox (herpes zoster) virus causes shingles.
Dementia. The same kind of vascular damage that can disrupt blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke can also affect brain function in a different way. Shingles raises the chance of inflammation of the arteries supplying blood to the brain, which in turn increases the odds of dementia.
In conclusion, patients with previous VZV infection affecting the brain had signs of long-term cognitive impairment in the domains of speed and attention, memory and learning and executive function.
Most cases of shingles last three to five weeks. The first sign is often burning or tingling pain; sometimes it includes numbness or itching on one side of the body. Somewhere between one and five days after the tingling or burning feeling on the skin, a red rash will appear.
In rare cases, shingles can spread into the brain or spinal cord and cause serious complications such as stroke or meningitis (an infection of the membranes outside the brain and spinal cord).
Symptoms of shingles An episode of shingles typically lasts around two to four weeks. The main symptoms are pain, followed by a rash. Any part of your body can be affected, including your face and eyes, although the chest and abdomen (tummy) are the most common areas where shingles develops.
“ Shingles is extremely painful, said Bolling. “On a scale from one to 10, most patients will say the pain ranges from six to 10.” Between one and five days after the first symptoms occur, a rash will develop in the affected area.
Shingles is triggered by a weakened or compromised immune system. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a virus infection that causes painful rashes on the body, usually on one side of your torso. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Mortality rate from disseminated herpes zoster is between 5% and 15%.
In very rare cases, shingles can lead to inflammation or swelling in your lungs, brain, liver, or death. You should get regular care for shingles so your doctor can check for even these uncommon kinds of problems.
In rare cases, the shingles infection can affect other organs. This leads to more serious complications that can be life-threatening. In the lungs, it can lead to pneumonia. In the liver, it can cause hepatitis, and in the brain, it can cause encephalitis.