Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a nervous system condition where nerves are damaged following an outbreak of shingles. The nerve fibers are damaged by inflammation caused by shingles, which in turn causes chronic pain that can be quite severe, lasting for months or even years. PHN usually occurs at the site of the shingles rash on your body. You can develop PHN as a result of shingles, but only about 10% of people who get shingles will develop PHN.
Some of the risk factors include:
- Being older than 60
- Being a woman
- Having a variety of health conditions that damage the immune system, like HIV or cancer
- Having early symptoms of shingles, like numbness or tingling before the shingles rash appears
- Having pain at the beginning of your shingles outbreak
Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia
Portherpetic neuralgia is caused by shingles and often requires the help of a pain management doctor for treatment. The nerve pain can be so severe that it has been compared to passing a kidney stone, or even labor. It is considered a complication of shingles.
- Nerve pain
- Sensitivity to touch
- Itching or numbness
The pain takes a variety of forms. It has been described as stabbing and shooting, as feeling like an electric shock, or as deep aching pain. It can cause the skin to be extremely sensitive, to the point that those who suffer sometimes cannot even stand the touch of clothing.
Because shingles usually occurs on only one side of the body, PHN will therefore be limited to that side of the body, usually on a site where a rash developed.
Shingles and Chickenpox (Varicella Zoster Virus)
Both shingles and chickenpox are caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox is usually contracted during childhood. The virus stays in the body for the rest of your life.
The main trigger for shingles is a weakened immune system, as many of the risk factors above show. To prevent shingles, you must do your best to keep your immune system strong, but very often, there is little you can do to stop shingles from developing, especially if you have an autoimmune disorder like Crohn’s disease or lupus.
The only true way to prevent shingles or chickenpox is to get a vaccine that protects against each disease. For shingles, the vaccine is Shingrix. For chickenpox, the vaccine is called varicella vaccine. It is recommended that you get vaccinated against shingles if you are over the age of 50.
If you do not contract chickenpox, then you can’t get shingles. This is why getting vaccinated is so important, especially if you’ve never had chickenpox, because it is still possible to contract it, even as an adult.
Postherpetic Neuralgia Treatment
Unfortunately, there is no cure for postherpetic neuralgia. If you have already had shingles, you may still want to consider getting the shingles vaccine.
That being said, there are a variety of treatments available for PHN:
- Some types of antidepressants, including tricyclic antidepressants
- Some anti-seizure medications, like gabapentin
- Lidocaine skin patches
- Capsaicin skin patches
If the pain is severe enough, you may also require opioid painkillers, though this is considered a last resort because of the risk of addiction.
Learn More About Clinical Studies in Boston for Postherpetic Neuralgia
Have you been diagnosed with PHN? You may qualify for a clinical study on PHN.