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The Most Important Things to Know About Postherpetic Neuralgia

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Postherpetic neuralgia is a common condition, yet many have never heard of it. It is the most common complication after having shingles, affecting fiber nerves and the skin. It usually presents as burning pain that can last long after the blisters of shingles disappear. 

What are shingles? Shingles are caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox: herpes zoster. The risk of having postherpetic neuralgia increases with age, and those over 60 are most at risk. Though there is no cure, treatments are available to help manage symptoms. Fortunately, for most patients, the symptoms improve over time. 

What is the Cause of Postherpetic Neuralgia?

The condition starts with chickenpox which remains dormant in the nervous system after it has run its course. It is unsure why the virus sometimes reactivates decades later, traveling along neuro-pathways to the skin, causing a painful, blistering rash known as shingles. 

In some patients, shingles damage the nerves so that messages from your skin cannot travel to the brain. This triggers the ongoing pain of postherpetic neuralgia. Rarely, if symptoms last longer than a year, the condition can be permanent. 

Does Everyone with Shingles Develop Postherpetic Neuralgia?

Not everyone who has shingles develops postherpetic neuralgia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About 10 to 18% of people who get shingles will experience postherpetic neuralgia. 

Certain factors put some patients at risk for the condition: 

  • Patients that are over the age of 60
  • It is more common in women than men
  • Pain at the start of symptoms that is severe
  • Experiencing numbness, tingling, or itching even before the shingles rash has developed
  • Patients with a condition that affects the immune symptoms such as HIV or cancer or those taking medication that lower the immune symptoms

What are the Symptoms of Postherpetic Neuralgia?

Usually, the symptoms are experienced in the area where the shingles outbreak first occurred. It is commonly in a band around the body's trunk and felt on one side of the body. 

Some common signs and symptoms can include pain lasting over three months after the shingles rash has healed. You may still experience burning, aching, or sharp, jabbing pain.

You may be sensitive to touch. Even clothing can cause pain and discomfort. 

Finally, you may experience itching or numbness in the affected area. If any of the above symptoms are experienced, it is important to speak with your physician to discuss treatment options. 

What are the Treatment Options for Postherpetic Neuralgia?

Seeking early treatment for shingles reduces the likelihood of postherpetic neuralgia. If you suspect shingles, seek medical attention as you can start antiviral drugs, which can help treat symptoms early to prevent further complications. 

You may even be diagnosed and treated by making an appointment with telemedicine pain management doctors who can determine if they can prescribe treatment options without having to be seen in the office. 

There are several treatment options your physician may try to relieve symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia. Typical treatments can include:

  • Anticonvulsant medications such as Carbamazepine or Gabapentin
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants
  • Prescription Pain Medications
  • Creams, including those that contain capsaicin which may be available over the counter or by prescription
  • Lidoderm patients that have the numbing agent lidocaine available by prescription
  • TENS units (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) which is a device that sends tiny electrical current to areas of pain, helping to block pain signals
  • Cold packs. Gel-filled packs are recommended to numb the area so long as it does not make symptoms worse

Is Shingles Preventable?

There are two approved vaccines for shingles: Zostavax and Shingrix. The vaccines are recommended for anyone over the age of 60. If you have a condition that lowers your immune symptoms, you may talk to your doctor about receiving the vaccination sooner. 

The vaccines are not 100% effective but can reduce the risk of shingles by at least 50%. If you get shingles and have had the vaccine, the pain experienced is minimalized, and the risk of postherpetic neuralgia is reduced. 

Are you experiencing Postherpetic Neuralgia Symptoms? You Don't have to suffer alone! 

If you have had shingles and are experiencing postherpetic neuralgia symptoms, then make an appointment with our providers at Pain Care Specialists of Florida. Together, we will develop a plan to treat your symptoms so find relief from pain and discomfort. 

The first step in managing your pain is to discuss your symptoms with our team to provide the right treatment plan for you. We offer services at the following locations: 

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please reach out to contact us today! 

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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