How You Can Find Relief for Shingles Pain: Advice From Shingles Specialists
Wasn’t Chickenpox Enough?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus—the same virus that causes chickenpox. This means that anyone that has previously gotten chickenpox can develop shingles.
After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus enters your nervous system and lies inactive. It’s still unclear why, but it can “wake up” or reactivate as shingles years later.
Shingles isn’t a severe condition, but it can cause a lot of pain. There can also be some complications like postherpetic neuralgia, which causes ongoing pain for a long time after the blisters have healed.
If your shingles pain hasn’t gone away, our specialists in NJ and PA can help. At Premier Pain Clinics, we have pain treatments that can effectively relieve postherpetic neuralgia, such as nerve blocks. Leave us your information below and we’ll contact you to help you schedule an appointment or solve any questions you may have.
What Causes Shingles? Let’s Dive a Little Deeper
When the varicella-zoster virus enters your body for the first time, it causes chickenpox, a highly contagious—and common—infection that causes an itchy, blister-like rash on your skin. More than 95% of Americans have had chickenpox, and about 4 million people get it every year.
However, not everyone who has had chickenpox develops shingles—about 30% of Americans get shingles at some point in their lifetime.
So, what exactly happens after you’ve had chickenpox? Unfortunately, the virus doesn’t just leave your body. Instead, it moves to the nerve tissues near your spinal cord and brain, where it stays inactive for years. It may eventually reactivate and travel along nerve pathways to your skin, where it will produce shingles.
The exact reason behind shingles remains unclear. What we do know is that lowered immunity due to aging can play a role in it, which explains why it’s most common in people over 50.
Keep An Eye Out For These Symptoms
The first symptoms of shingles are pain and burning, and they usually affect a small section or several sections of one side of the body. A rash also appears a few days after the pain begins, and depending on your skin tone, it can look red, dark pink, dark brown, or even purple.
The shingles rash is typically a line of blisters that wraps around one side of your torso. However, it can also develop on your back, buttocks, face, or even your eye.
Other shingles symptoms include:
- Numbness or tingling.
- Sensitivity to touch.
- Fluid-filled blisters that easily break open.
- Fever and chills.
In rare cases, shingles can have some complications, such as:
- Permanent eye damage if a rash near or in an eye is left untreated.
- Brain inflammation or facial paralysis due to nerve damage.
- Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is pain that persists long after the blisters have healed.
Even though these complications are not very common, you should always seek a shingles specialist or any medical help if you have symptoms. This is especially important if you’re older than 60 or if you or someone in your family has a weakened immune system due to another condition.
Shingles Pain, Also Known As Postherpetic Neuralgia
Let’s talk about shingles pain, the most common complication of shingles. It’s also called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and it develops in about 20% of the people who get shingles.
In most cases, the symptoms of shingles—including pain—go away along with the rash, but there are some cases in which the pain persists long after the skin has healed. This is postherpetic neuralgia.
Postherpetic neuralgia might feel like intense tingling, burning, or shooting sensations, or also a deep ache, usually in the area where the shingles outbreak first appeared. The pain typically lasts for three months or longer after the rash has cleared. It can also cause itching, numbness, and extreme sensitivity to touch, making even wearing clothes hard. Some people also get headaches, fever, or fatigue.
Why Does PHN Occur?
Well, in some cases, shingles can damage nerve fibers to a point where they can’t carry messages from the skin to the brain as they normally do. This disruption of signals can cause neuralgia, or “nerve pain”. This pain can last for months or years, and even become permanent.
Risk Factors for PHN
Aside from having had shingles, some factors can increase the chance of getting PHN, such as:
- Being older than 50.
- Having experienced severe pain at the beginning of the shingles outbreak.
- Having gotten shingles specifically in the torso or face.
- Having experienced early symptoms—such as numbness or tingling—before the rash even appeared.
- Having other conditions that can weaken the immune system, such as cancer, HIV, or diabetes.
If you are looking for a postherpetic neuralgia specialist or are experiencing ongoing pain after shingles, we’ve got your back. At Premier Pain Clinics, we help you manage shingles pain through minimally invasive pain treatments. Our treatment plans aim to minimize or even eliminate your pain, but most importantly, to recover your quality of life, both physically and mentally. Feel free to contact us to learn more!
This Is How Shingles Is Diagnosed
Your doctor will most likely be able to make a shingles diagnosis by analyzing your symptoms and doing a physical examination of your rash and blisters.
In some cases, however, they may also have to test a small sample of your tissue or the fluid from your blisters to determine if there is a presence of the varicella-zoster virus.
This Is How Shingles Is Treated
Technically, there’s no cure for shingles, and it has to run its course before its symptoms disappear. Nevertheless, certain medications can help you heal faster and reduce the risk of complications. If you are diagnosed with shingles, your doctor will probably recommend antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir.
If there is severe pain, your doctor may also prescribe other medications to help relieve it, such as:
- Anticonvulsants like gabapentin (Neurontin).
- Tricyclic antidepressants.
- Numbing medications—like lidocaine—that come in creams, gels, sprays, or skin patches.
- Prescription painkillers, such as codeine.
Additionally, there are some things you can do at home to feel better, like taking a cool bath or using cool compresses on your blisters to relieve pain and itching.
Nerve Blocks For Shingles Pain
Pain caused by postherpetic neuralgia is a whole different story. It is a chronic, more complex kind of pain since it involves damaged nerves. PHN can be quite debilitating and affect your everyday activities, which is why other types of treatments may be needed to find relief.
This is where pain management comes in. Pain procedures like nerve blocks can provide relief for postherpetic neuralgia and several other conditions.
Nerve blocks consist of injecting a local anesthetic into a specific nerve or group of nerves, which then “blocks” pain signals and keeps them from getting to your central nervous system. This is a very quick procedure that has proven to be very effective in treating acute pain. Although their effect lasts for about 1 to 2 weeks, you may get periodic injections for long-term pain management.
Nerve blocks are one of the treatments our shingles specialists at Premier Pain Clinics recommend the most to treat this condition, along with other options like radiofrequency ablation. They may also complement your pain treatment with medication.
Is your shingles pain affecting your quality of life? Don’t hesitate to request a consultation if you are experiencing this. Our goal is to help you recover in the safest way possible and feel your best.
FAQ About Shingles Pain
Is shingles contagious? What about postherpetic neuralgia?
Since shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox, a person with shingles can transmit the virus to someone who isn’t immune to chickenpox if they come in contact with the open sores of the rash.
Postherpetic neuralgia, on the other hand, isn’t contagious. It is nerve pain that remains long after shingles symptoms have gone away and the rash and blisters have healed.
Can shingles pain be prevented?
Shingles and PHN can be prevented by getting the shingles vaccine.
Currently, Shingrix is the only shingles vaccine available in the U.S. The CDC recommends people 60 or older, as well as people 19 or older who are immunocompromised, to get two doses of Shingrix, separated by 2 to 6 months. A complete Shingrix vaccination is about 90% effective at preventing shingles and PHN.
Is PHN permanent?
PHN can last for months, years, or even permanently. However, for most people, this shingles complication tends to improve over time. Some treatments, like nerve blocks, can be very effective in easing PHN symptoms.
If you want to learn more about nerve blocks or other shingles pain treatments, feel free to contact us. We’ll be glad to help you determine the best treatment option for your case.
What are the benefits of treating shingles pain with nerve blocks?
Nerve blocks work by stopping the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. Although they don’t treat the virus itself, they do help ease pain caused by shingles and even avoid nerve damage in the affected areas, preventing PHN before it occurs.
This is one of the safest and most effective procedures to treat shingles pain. It is minimally invasive and allows patients to go back to their normal life within a short amount of time.
At Premier Pain Clinics, our specialists will analyze your medical history to determine if you are suitable for nerve block therapy.
Other interventional procedures we perform at our pain clinics are radiofrequency ablation (RFA), which uses radio waves to heat specific groups of nerves and stop them from sending pain signals to the brain, and spinal cord stimulation (SCS), which involves implanting a small device under the skin that “masks” pain signals using mild electrical currents.