Shingles Pain Relief: Prevention and Treatments

shingles pain relief

Can you remember having chicken pox as a child, or at least getting vaccinated for it? Most of us have had this condition and it caused nothing more than some mild irritation and itchy sores, and then we never thought about it again.

For those unlucky enough to have the virus return, this is commonly known as shingles. Shingles is a viral infection that occurs in the nerve roots. Caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same one that causes chicken pox, it affects more people each year than you might realize.

Although the shingles themselves are uncomfortable and sometimes painful, the worst thing about this virus is that the pain can linger on. Some people might find that long after their blisters are healed, they are still experiencing severe pain that lasts for more than a few months and doesn’t seem to be improving.

If you’ve suffered from shingles and are still having ongoing pain, there are some options for relief that might be able to help you out. Depending on your health background and current status, there have been great advancements in treatment for shingles and the pain it causes.

What Is Shingles?

As most of us have had chickenpox by the time we turn 40, there’s a good chance that the virus which causes it stays dormant in your nerve cells. When this virus becomes active again, for whatever reason, this then turns into shingles. Even those who haven’t had chicken pox are still able to catch it from someone with the condition or someone with shingles, simply by touching the fluid found inside of the blisters.

There are some factors that can make people more prone to developing shingles, but generally, there is no known trigger for it. These are some things that may make you more susceptible to getting it:

  • Over 60 years of age;
  • Recent bone marrow  or organ transplant recipient;
  • Have either AIDS or HIV;
  • Have any condition that weakens or compromises your immune system;
  • Experience a lot of stress;
  • Have had recent treatment like chemotherapy which can weaken the immune system.

Around one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime, and at any given time there are 1 million Americans suffering from it. The percentage of those sufferers who continue to have long-lasting pain is around 12 – 15%, according to recent findings. Among older patients, the likelihood of developing this is around 50%.

Symptoms of Shingles

girl having a headache

The most obvious sign that people look for with shingles are the blisters. These are small red spots that will develop into pus-filled blisters on the body. They usually contain themselves to just one part or side of the body like the back or chest. However, before this rash occurs you’ll usually experience a number of other symptoms:

  • Stabbing sensation;
  • Fever;
  • A headache;
  • Numb feeling in some parts of the body;
  • Burning and tingling;

The shingles can last for a few weeks and you will be better once the sores are all fully healed. However, in some people, the pain may continue on long after the blisters have healed and in this case, you might need extra treatment.

Shingles Pain and PHN

Shingles

The term for this long-lasting pain that occurs months after shingles have gone is PHN or Postherpetic neuralgia. When shingles disappear, most people will notice that the pain disappers as well, but if it’s still hanging around after three months then you’ll likely be diagnosed with PHN. This means that you are experiencing long term nerve damage caused by the virus.

Medical professionals are still unsure about why this pain sticks around longer in some more than others, but it is known that older patients are more likely to experience PHN. If your PHN has lasted over a year, there’s a good chance that it will continue to last longer as well.

There are some risk factors that may cause a person with shingles to develop PHN as well. Although this isn’t a definite, these are some factors to consider:

  • Female;
  • Older than 60;
  • Those who experience symptoms before the rash;
  • Extreme pain during shingles;
  • Worse rash than others;

Treating Long Term Shingles Pain

Those who experience PHN will understand just how painful and debilitating it can be. However, because the damage has already been done the best approach is to use a painkiller because you won’t be able to reverse the damage. As it hopefully won’t be a lifelong thing, you won’t need to rely on them forever.

Numerous studies have been done into the most effective treatments are to reduce the pain, with varying results depending on the individual. These are some things your doctor will recommend once you’ve been diagnosed with PHN.

PHN treatments

  • Female;
  • Older than 60;
  • Those who experience symptoms before the rash;
  • Extreme pain during shingles;
  • Worse rash than others;

Seeing a doctor will guarantee you get the right diagnosis and will also take into account other factors that should be considered. As some of these can’t be taken with other medications or for those with pre-existing conditions, it’s always best to get advice from a health professional.

Prevention for Shingles Pain

patient talking to a doctor

As always with modern medicine, the best cure is often prevention. Some people have found that to reduce their chances of developing PHN and suffering from the pain for longer, you should have your shingles treated within the first three days.

There are some things you can try, and it’s always best to speak to a doctor about what would work best for you. Most doctors will refer you to an antiviral medication which will be useful if used within the first few days of the rash coming up on your skin.

For the initial pain, you can take things like paracetamol or use anti-inflammatories, as long as they are steroid free. If you think that these over the counter remedies aren’t strong enough, explain to your doctor the pain you’re experiencing and they may be able to assist with something stronger that would be safe to take, like anticonvulsants or opioids.

Even by treating your shingles early on, there’s no guarantee that it will stop PHN from developing but it’s always best to do. As the pain of PHN comes from nerve damage, this is something that we can never determine the outcome of and it’s hard to say who might be the unlucky patient that ends up developing it.

When to See A Doctor

Although shingles and PHN rarely develop into anything more serious, there are some things to be aware of if you develop the condition. For the best results, you should see a doctor if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of shingles as this might help you reduce its severity and possibly lessen the chance of any further complications.

If you’re pregnant, have problems with your immune system, take medication that can affect your immune system, or any other troubling concerns to do with your health, seeing a doctor is definitely recommended. Those who are experiencing the standard symptoms of shingles as well as these things should see a health professional immediately:

  • Memory loss or confusion;
  • Eye pain or loss of vision;
  • Severe headaches;
  • Fever that doesn’t come down;

Everybody reacts different to the shingles virus so there’s no indication how each person will experience the symptoms and pain. However, the best approach is seeking treatment in the early stages to reduce your chances of PHN or other complications.

Finding A Permanent Cure for Your Pain

Post herpetic neuralgia is a condition that’s still a mystery to health professionals. Although we know that it’s caused by nerve damage, there’s no indication about why certain people might experience PHN and others don’t.

What we do know is that there are proven ways to treat the pain, and it’s simply a matter of working with your doctor to figure out what’s best for you. All things need to be considered like current medications, previous conditions, and your health status before you can come up with an appropriate treatment.

Shingles can be painful enough for people and last for weeks on end and for those who then follow it up with PHN it can be unimaginable. Prevention is always a good measure of protection but unfortunately with this condition, there’s no telling who is going to develop it and why.

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