Postherpetic neuralgia is one of the more severe complications of a herpes zoster infection. Herpes zoster is also known as shingles. It is an infection caused by the same virus which is responsible for chickenpox. Postherpetic neuralgia is a very painful condition which requires detailed care by a physician to control and treat.
Postherpetic neuralgia does not happen until after a shigles infection has been contracted. As mentioned, shigles is an infection caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Shingles tends to be seen in older people, and is not common under the age of 50.
Shigles infections have a different rash pattern than chickenpox. An infected person will experience a painful rash, typically only on a small part of the body. The face and chest are commonly involved. The rash is usually located on one side of the body only. This has to do with the nature of the virus and the anatomy of your nervous system. The virus lives in the peripheral nerves in your skin. These nerves have a very defined distribution. The shingles virus will cause damage to one set of nerves, and usually stay in that location on your body.
Shingles is not contagious from one person to another. However, a person with an active shingles infection can pass along a chickenpox infection to a child or other person who has never been previously exposed to the virus. As such, there is some risk when a person is actively infected.
Okay, all that is nice, but what is postherpetic neuralgia. Most people who get a shigles infection can be treated appropriately and will experience no long-term complications. However, about 10-15% of people who get shigles will suffer a signficant complication from the infection. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia.
As mentioned above, the shingles virus lives in the nerves around your skin. In some people, the virus can do significant damage to your nerves. The damage to these nerves will cause all sorts of problems with sensations, including severe pain.
Postherpetic neuralgia is defined as pain that persists in the area of a shigles infection for more than four months after the rash first appeared. The pain associtated with postherpetic neuralgia is typically described as a burning sensation, and it can be triggered by just about anything, including movement and being touched.
There are treatments for postherpetic neuralgia. One of the more common treatments is the use of a group of medications known as tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline. Yes, you read that right, antidepressants. Strong pain medications, steroids, and topical pain control are also used, depending on the particular case and the patient’s willingness and abilty to take certain medications.
If you have more questions about postherpetic neuralgia, talk with your doctor. There are treatments for this problem. It is a very painful condition and not something that a person wants to ignore.