Aging & Health A to Z
Lifestyle & Management
Keep the affected skin clean, in order to avoid bacterial infections. Remember that before they dry out and form crusts, the shingles blisters contain live chickenpox virus that may be contagious. A susceptible person who touches the wet blisters can come down with chickenpox (not shingles). Wash towels and other reusable items carefully in very hot water and strong detergent or soap. Items like tissues, wipes or paper towels should be carefully thrown away.
Do not let anyone who has not had chickenpox come into contact with your rash or blisters while they are still open. Take particular care to avoid skin contact with pregnant women who have never had chickenpox.
Complications of Shingles
The most common complication of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN.
You may be among the one in five shingles patients in which the severe pain continues for months, or even years after the rash and blisters clear up. This complication, called “postherpetic neuralgia (PHN),” is more likely to occur if you are over the age of 60 and were not able to start antiviral shingles treatment promptly. Older shingles patients are more likely to go on to experience PHN. About one-third of patients over the age of 79 have this complication.
Post-herpetic neuralgia is caused by nerve damage that makes the nerve send pain signals without any pain stimulus, or in response to triggers that normally don’t cause pain. Post-herpetic neuralgia is difficult to treat, and can be linked to difficulties with daily functions.
The pain of post-herpetic neuralgia is described as burning, throbbing, aching, stabbing or shooting. Your doctor will prescribe pain medications similar to those used for the pain of shingles.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012