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Shingles & Postherpetic Neuralgia

A painful rash & long-lasting nerve pain caused by the chickenpox virus

Shingles Facts and Information

Shingles is aninfection caused by a re-activation of the chickenpox virus.

Over 95% of people who had chickenpox during childhood still harbor the virus in an inactive form inside some of their nerve cells. An estimated 1 in 3 people eventually experience a reawakening of the virus and develop shingles in adulthood.

Shingles creates a painful rash with many small blisters arranged in a stripe pattern.

What Triggers Shingles?

Shingles is common in people whose immune systems are weakened by stress, disease, or advanced age. Ideally, these people receive chickenpox booster vaccinations in order to reduce the risk for shingles. Unfortunately, a vaccine does not always prevent outbreaks.

Symptoms of Shingles and Postherpetic neuralgia

Pain is the tell-tale sign before a Shingles outbreak. The pain appears on one side of the body, and it usually affects one of the following areas:

  • Torso
  • Neck and shoulder
  • Face
  • Scalp

After a couple of days, the painful area becomes covered in a red rash. Then, blisters start to appear.

Other Shingles symptoms include:

  • Skin that is sensitive to touch
  • Pain, burning, numbness, tingling, itching
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
  • General symptoms like fever, headache, sensitivity to light

Most cases of shingles last 2-4 weeks. For most people, the pain improves once the blisters dry up.

However, roughly 2 out of 10 people develop long-lasting nerve pain (Postherpetic neuralgia) that may last for months or even years. People with Postherpetic neuralgia experience unpleasant burning sensations that last long after the rash and blisters of shingles are gone.

Diagnosis for Shingles or Postherpetic neuralgia

Usually, no tests are necessary to diagnose Shingles. A rash in a band pattern is unique and should allow your primary care physician to establish the diagnosis.

A diagnosis for Postherpetic neuralgia is based on symptoms of burning pain in a body area with a recent Shingles outbreak.

Treatments for Shingles and Postherpetic neuralgia

There is no cure for Shingles. However, starting treatment early can speed the healing process and reduce the risk of Postherpetic neuralgia.

Your primary care or an emergency room physician might start you on light pain medications and antiviral drugs like Acyclovir (Zovirax).

If these medications do not adequately control the symptoms, you will benefit by continuing your treatments with a pain specialist. A pain specialist offers advanced treatments that block pain signals from the nerve that harbors the virus.

To learn more about these treatments, click on the options below.

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