Postherpetic Neuralgia – Shingles
Learn More About This Condition & Our Approach
What are Postherpetic Neuralgia and Shingles?
For two-thirds of individuals, when you get chickenpox as a child it doesn’t just end there. For many, that long-forgotten rash returns in the form of shingles. Shingles can last a few weeks for most people, but those few weeks can be excruciating. In some unlucky people, pain doesn’t end once the rash goes away. It can go on and on and when this happens it is called postherpetic neuralgia. Postherpetic neuralgia is a form of neuropathic pain, which can last for months or years, even after the virus is no longer active.
Symptoms of Postherpetic Neuralgia and Shingles?
The shingles rash is limited to the area of skin assigned to the infected nerve. The rash usually starts as small bumps that may turn into blisters and eventually burst and crust over. If the shingles rash develops on the face, it could affect the eye and pose a threat to sight. Unlike chickenpox, the shingles rash can sometimes pose intense burning, stabbing, or electrical pains.
The pain of shingles can continue to hang on after the rash is gone and then becomes postherpetic neuralgia. The pain that occurs from postherpetic neuralgia can be intermittent or constant, and can also take on any of the diverse qualities of shingles pain.
What Causes Postherpetic Neuralgia and Shingles?
Some people are at a higher risk for shingles and postherpetic neuralgia than others, but when used correctly, the available treatments can prevent postherpetic neuralgia or at least stop it from becoming a permanent, painful condition.
The source of chickenpox, shingles, and postherpetic neuralgia are all from a single virus called varicella zoster virus (VZV). Most people catch the virus as a child and experience itching through the rash and fever of the chickenpox, and then get better. For most of us, the VZV lies dormant inside our bodies and never causes any further issues. However, in about one-third of people, the infection does come back in the form of shingles. Postherpetic neuralgia, then, typically occurs in the area where the shingles occurred.
Treatments for Postherpetic Neuralgia and Shingles
When taken at the very beginning of shingles, antiviral medicines that are taken orally can improve symptoms and reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia. Starting the antiviral treatments more than three days after the symptoms begin is generally believed to be ineffective because the virus is no longer reproducing.
Once postherpetic neuralgia has set in, antiviral drugs can no longer treat the pain because the ongoing infection isn’t the problem. Treatment, instead, aims to soothe and calm the misfiring nerves that create the pain. Finding the right treatment for persistent postherpetic neuralgia can be a long and frustrating process, but it is important not to give up on finding the right treatment for you. Talking to you doctor about your specific case will increase the odds of treating the condition sooner, and allowing you to return to a more pleasant, pain-free lifestyle.