Is Shingles a Serious Condition?

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Shingles is a painful skin rash that’s caused by the same virus as chickenpox. While it’s usually not life-threatening, it can be quite serious — especially if you develop complications like postherpetic neuralgia. Learn more and find treatment here.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that triggers a painful skin rash on one side of your body. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.

About one in three Amercians gets shingles in their lifetime. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, you’re at risk of developing shingles, because the virus remains dormant in your nervous system and can reactivate later in life.

While shingles can be quite painful, it’s not always serious. Most people with shingles recover fully within several weeks to a few months. However, shingles can have some serious complications, particularly in older adults, people with weakened immune systems, and people with certain medical conditions.

Are you at risk of shingles complications? Dr. Maher Ibrahim and our team at Interventional Pain Management Associates are here to help. We offer advanced diagnostics and custom treatment plans to manage pain and improve your health. Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding the possible complications of shingles

One of the most serious complications of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that persists after the shingles rash has healed. Postherpetic neuralgia can cause intense and debilitating pain that lasts for weeks, months, or even years.

Up to 18% of people who get shingles develop postherpetic neuralgia. In severe cases, it can have a significant impact on quality of life, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks or even to get a good night's sleep.

Another complication of shingles is eye involvement. Up to 20% of shingles cases involve nerves in the head, which can include various parts of the eye. If shingles affects the eye, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention to prevent serious eye damage like vision loss or blindness.

Other possible shingles complications include skin infections, pneumonia, or encephalitis. These complications are more likely to occur in people with weakened immune systems.

Evaluating your risk of shingles complications

Anyone who’s had chickenpox can get shingles and experience complications, but some people are at higher risk than others. You could be more likely to get shingles if you’re over age 50 and more likely to experience severe complications if you’re over age 60.

Other risk factors for complications include diseases that weaken your immune system, like HIV/AIDS or cancer. Certain medications and medical treatments can also compromise your immune system, including chemotherapy for cancer and long-term steroid use.

What to do about shingles

Shingles poses a risk of some painful and serious complications. But the good news is that it can be effectively treated with antiviral medications to reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms.

Antiviral medications are most effective when started within the first 72 hours after your shingles rash appears. In addition to antiviral medications, Dr. Ibrahim may prescribe pain medications or other treatments to relieve the discomfort associated with shingles.

If you’ve developed postherpetic neuralgia or another complication of shingles, talk to Dr. Ibrahim about your treatment options. We take a comprehensive approach to pain management, and your treatment options may include oral mediation, topical patches or creams, and steroid injections.

Preventing shingles

The best way to prevent shingles and its complications is to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shingles vaccine for people over the age of 50. The vaccine is safe and effective, and it can significantly reduce your risk of shingles and its complications.

Shingles isn’t typically considered life-threatening, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. Get your questions answered and find the care you need at Interventional Pain Management Associates in Hamilton, New Jersey. Call us at 609-757-9860 or request an appointment online.