Shingles Complications: What Is Post-Herpetic Neuralgia?

The pain lasts as long as the name.

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There’s a reason the shingles vaccine has become so important. Not only is shingles itself extremely painful. but it can also cause long-term nerve damage. This serious complication of shingles is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).

What is Post-Herpetic Neuralgia?

It's a long-term nerve pain that lasts three months or longer after having shingles. The name essentially translates to nerve inflammation caused by the herpes zoster virus.

PHN occurs in 10 to 18 percent of people who get shingles, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. People who get it describe it as a crippling and deep burning, itching, or stabbing pain under the skin where the shingles rash was.

PHN can also make you more sensitive to pain. In some cases, it can get to the point that even wind or light seems to hurt. Over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen just don’t cut it for treating this pain.

Here’s How to Treat and Try to Prevent PHN

Some treatments for PHN include lidocaine patches to locally numb the area. Other options include antidepressants, opioids, and antiepileptic drugs. However, patients often find the side effects from these aren’t worth it, and opioids only provide short-term relief due to the risk of dependence.

You can’t prevent PHN entirely, but you can lower your risk. The key is to recognize shingles early and start antiviral medications like Valtrex as soon as you can. Perhaps the most important factor is to get the shingles vaccine if you’re eligible. The shingles vaccine can help prevent shingles (of course), but even if you still get shingles after being vaccinated, your risk of PHN will be lower.

If you’re experiencing lingering pain that hinders your livelihood after shingles, talk to your doctor to find the right treatment for you.