Medical Q&As

Shingles in an elderly man - prognosis?

An 81-year-old friend has been diagnosed with shingles. The rash extends from his back onto the front of his chest. He has lost his appetite and I am concerned for his well-being. Do you have any advice? How long will his recovery take?

The management of shingles has been transformed over the past decade with the advent of antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs can halt the progress of the infection and can have a significant effect on the level of pain that accompanies shingles. One of the complications of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia, which means ongoing nerve pain at the site of the rash. This neuralgia can be very severe and it can persist for months or even years after the infection has subsided. Research studies indicate that post herpetic neuralgia can be reduced if antiviral drugs are used in the early days when the rash first appears. Shingles can also be very debilitating so it is important that your friend is well nourished. If he is unable to eat regular meals there is a wide choice of specially formulated food supplements available through your local pharmacy. One can or carton of these special foods would be equivalent in nutritional terms to a main meal. There would also be some merit in him taking vitamin supplements. There are many powerful myths about shingles and your friend may be very well aware of them because they were widely believed when he was a younger man. It is important that he be reassured that his condition is eminently treatable. With regard to the likely length of recovery this very much depends on the severity of the attack and his general state of fitness before the infection struck.