How Long Does Postherpetic Neuralgia Last & What Is The Recovery Period?

Postherpetic neuralgia occurs as the commonest complication of shingles. It occurs as severe and agonizing pain, that can be burning, sharp and stabbing or deep and aching in nature. In this condition, the nerve fibers get damaged and cannot transmit or communicate messages from the skin to the brain in a normal way. The messages get mixed up and overstated and lead to agonizing pain.

How Long Does Postherpetic Neuralgia Last?

Postherpetic neuralgia may continue for a long duration even after the rashes and blisters of shingles vanish. Usually, the pain and other symptoms that may continue from 1 to 4 months after the shingles rashes and blisters are gone, is considered as postherpetic neuralgia. The pain or discomfort resulting from it can continue from several months to sometimes even years(1)

What Is The Recovery Period For Postherpetic Neuralgia?

The recovery period for postherpetic neuralgia is different for different persons. It varies from a few months to a few years. In some people, there may be a need to take pain medications for about three months. In some others, there may be a need to take medications for a much longer period than three months. In a rare few, postherpetic neuralgia may result in permanent nerve damage. The disease, however, is not fatal(2,3)

  • To diagnose the disease, the doctor will conduct a physical examination to determine the areas that are severely sensitive to touch
  • He may also try and determine the margins of the affected area
  • Tests are generally not required to determine postherpetic neuralgia, in most of the cases(5)

Treatment Of Postherpetic Neuralgia-

Postherpetic neuralgia cannot be cured, but symptoms, especially pain, can be relieved with treatment. In most cases, postherpetic neuralgia gets better with time.
For treating postherpetic neuralgia, more than one treatment methods are usually required, as it is seen that only one of the methods fails to give promising results. The treatment options may include-

Lidocaine Skin Patches-

  • These are topical pain-alleviating patches of medicine lidocaine
  • These are to be applied at the site of pain directly to ease the pain(5)

Capsaicin Skin Patch-

  • These are patches of extract capsaicin, derived from chili peppers
  • It is available by the name Qutenza
  • This is to be applied at the site of pain, but only by a trained professional and after the application of a numbing medication at the site first(5)

Anticonvulsants-

  • These medicines help in normalizing the electrical activity in the nervous system
  • However, these may cause side effects like sleepiness, hallucinations, imbalance, etc(5)

Antidepressants-

  • These may help in changing the way the brain interprets pain
  • As a result, you may feel less pain
  • These are given in a low dosage as compared to what is given for depression(5)

Opioid Pain Relievers-

  • These are extremely strong pain killers, made out of opioid derivatives
  • However, these may cause many dangerous side effects, and hence, their use is discouraged(5)

Injectable Steroids-

  • Injectable steroids may be sometimes given, however, there have been mixed results with this(5)

Prevention Of Postherpetic Neuralgia

It is suggested that people older than 50 years of age should get themselves vaccinated with Shingrix, which helps in preventing shingles. It is recommended that this vaccine be taken even if you have had shingles in the past or have taken Zostavax. Shingrix is thought to be better than Zostavax in terms of effectiveness and period of sustainability of the effectiveness(4)

Conclusion

Postherpetic neuralgia occurs as a result of a complication of shingles. It is not curable. However, the symptoms can be reduced with the help of treatment. The symptoms and their duration vary from person to person however, they may last from 1 month to 4 months. Sometimes, they may even last for years.

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