Postherpetic neuralgia is the commonest complication of shingles. In this condition, there is a burning pain that continues for long even after the blisters and rashes of shingles vanish. This is because the nerves fibers and skin are affected.
What Triggers Postherpetic Neuralgia?
If you have had chickenpox, the virus responsible for chickenpox–herpes zoster stays on in your body throughout your remaining life. Due to reasons like aging or a suppressed immune system, this virus can again activate and cause shingles.
If the nerve fibers get damaged when there is an outbreak of shingles, these damaged fibers are not able to send messages and signals normally from the skin to the brain. The messages get exaggerated and cause chronic, severe, agonizing pain. This pain lasts for months, or sometimes, even years.(1)
If you get affected by shingles, there is a greater chance that you might get affected by postherpetic neuralgia if you are subjected to any of the following factors-
people of age over 50 years are more at risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia
If you suffered from a very severe form of shingles and the rash was severe too
If you suffer from any chronic diseases like diabetes or immunity-suppressing conditions, you are at an increased risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia
Location Of Shingles-
If shingles developed on your face or torso, there are more chances that you may get affected by postherpetic neuralgia
Treatment Of Shingles-
If you didn’t start the antiviral treatment for shingles soon (within 72 hours) after the rash has occurred, you may be at an increased risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia
How Does Postherpetic Neuralgia Affect The Body?
Postherpetic neuralgia usually presents with signs and symptoms in that area of the body which was affected by shingles first. Shingles usually affect one side of your body, in a band around the trunk. Postherpetic neuralgia affects the body by causing-
- The pain lasts for months or sometimes, even years
- The pain is persistent even after the rash of shingles heals
- The pain is sharp, jabbing or deep and aching or burning(1)
- People with postherpetic neuralgia cannot tolerate even a light touch on the affected area, such as brushing of clothing
- This condition is known as allodynia
Numbness And Itching-
Postherpetic neuralgia may result in numbness or itching at the affected area
It is time to see a doctor at the first signs of singles. You may start feeling pain even before the rash develops. The chances of developing postherpetic neuralgia reduce significantly if you start on medications well within 72 hours of getting a shingles rash(1)
Complications Of Postherpetic Neuralgia
The complications of postherpetic neuralgia depend upon the severity and the duration for which it lasts. It also depends upon how painful the neuralgia is. Complications may include many other common conditions that are associated with pain. These may include-
- Sleeping difficulties
- Fatigue or extreme tiredness
- Anxiety and depression
- Loss of appetite
- Concentration difficulties
Prevention Of Postherpetic Neuralgia
People over the age of 50 years are advised to get themselves vaccinated with shingrix. Shingrix is used to prevent shingles. Even if you have had shingles previously or you have taken Zostavax, it is still recommended that you take shingrix as well. Shingrix provides better protection against shingles and it is long-standing in duration as well. Preventing shingles can help in preventing postherpetic neuralgia.(1)
Postherpetic neuralgia is the commonest complication of shingles. It is characterized by a severe and agonizing pain that can be burning, deep and aching or sharp and stabbing. Postherpetic neuralgia cannot be cured. However, the symptoms, especially the pain can be reduced with the help of treatment. In most people, postherpetic neuralgia disappears on its own within a few months.