Postherpetic Neuralgia is a painful condition that develops as a complication of shingles. It affects the nerve fibers and the skin and causes burning that can be painful enough to interfere with everyday life. Shingles, marked by a rash and blisters, is caused by the virus behind chicken pox (varicella zoster). Most people who have shingles are symptom free within a few weeks. Once it persists beyond this period, it’s called Postherpetic Neuralgia.
People who are 60 and older are at a higher risk of developing Postherpetic Neuralgia. The condition can be difficult to treat and the pain can last weeks, months or years. The condition occurs in the area of the skin affected by the shingles virus. It is commonly found in the trunk portion of the body on one side. In addition to pain, people with this complication can experience extreme sensitivity to even the lightest touch, itching and numbness. Some people experience muscle weakness or paralysis, although this is rare.
The risk of developing this condition is significantly reduced if you begin taking antiviral medication within the first 72 hours of developing the shingles virus. This is why it’s so important to see a doctor when you first notice the rash and accompanying pain. Shingles develops after the chickenpox virus lays dormant in the body and reactivates some years later.
Patients with Postherpetic Neuralgia may be referred to a nerve specialist. Diagnosing this condition is possible during an exam. There are no specific diagnostic tests that need to be performed. No single treatment exists to eradicate this condition or relieve symptoms. A combination of treatments may be necessary. These can include Lidocaine skin patches for pain relief, Tricyclic antidepressants, certain anticonvulsants and narcotic painkillers (opioids). Over-the-counter pain relievers may also work for some people. The chicken pox vaccine can help prevent shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia.