Shingles Complications

Shingles Can Do More than Just Hurt

While it doesn't grab too many headlines, shingles is a fairly common disease. It's estimated that around one-third of the population will develop this ailment in their lifetimes. The culprit behind shingles is the herpes zoster virus. Normally, shingles causes a rash and intense pain in a small area of the body. In some cases, though, shingles causes complications that can be serious and even crippling or life-threatening. Some of these complications depend on the location of shingles in the body, and some are more harmful than others. Here's a list of well-known complications:

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  • Postherpetic neuralgia
  • Scarring
  • Muscle weakness
  • Secondary bacterial infection
  • Disseminated zoster
  • Cranial nerve complications

Postherpetic neuralgia is the term used when the pain caused by shingles persists well after the outbreak has healed. This pain can continue for months or even years afterwards. This complication is more likely the older the sufferer is. It's also more likely to happen when the shingles rash occurs somewhere on the face or head. There is no cure, but fortunately, the condition usually clears on its own.

Because a shingles rash involves blisters, there's always some amount of scarring resulting from it. Occasionally, the scarring can be severe and include discolored patches on the skin. Likewise, it's possible for the watery blisters to be ruptured and become infected by a variety of bacteria. This can sometimes include antibiotic-resistant strains. In addition, because shingles affects nerve endings, it can damage the nerves in muscle tissue beneath the location of the shingles outbreak. The nerve damage can result in muscle weakness that may persist. This complication doesn't just happen immediately after an attack. It can also happen before or during the outbreak.

What can make any of these problems more acute is disseminated zoster. This refers to a case of shingles where the virus covers a much larger area of the body. Normally, a shingles rash is limited to a small patch of skin. When the rash is widespread, it can affect internal organs like the lungs, heart, or liver through further inflammation. It also affects the muscles surrounding the joints, leading to temporary weakness of the whole body.

Among the most severe complications are those resulting when the location of shingles is in the cranial nerves. An indication of this complication is a rash somewhere on the head or neck. If the virus is mainly concentrated on the optic nerves, it can produce pain, inflammation, or numbness in the eyes. There's the danger of vision damage or permanent loss when this occurs. This could be caused by either damage to the optic nerve or an infection of the corneas from a rash on the eyelids.

If the virus is mainly located in the auditory nerves, ringing of the ears and dizziness can result. This particular condition is called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. The main indicator of it is a rash in or around one or both ears. This complication can lead to permanent difficulty maintaining balance. Other symptoms of a cranial nerve infection include dry mouth, dry eyes and no sense of taste. It's even possible to suffer paralyzed facial muscles. In the most extreme cases of inflammation, the brain itself is affected with encephalitis. Sometimes, cranial blood vessels become inflamed, and there is a risk of blood clots that can lead to stroke.

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