Shingles & Postherpetic Neuralgia

Shingles & Postherpetic Neuralgia

Shingles (herpes zoster) is an often very painful reactivation of childhood chicken pox (varicella zoster), typically affecting adults older than age 45, and has affected over half of all adults above the age of 60.  When a child has chicken pox, the rash, fever, cough, and fatigue clears up over a number of weeks, and health is restored.  Remnant virus particles not destroyed by the immune system can lie dormant in the nerve roots close to the spine for decades.  If the virus is reactivated at a later date, it travels along nerve pathways often to the skin.

Although the shingles rash heals, the after effects of the outbreak can linger for months or years. Sometimes the nerves become severely or permanently damaged creating a painful chronic condition known as postherpetic neuralgia which can last 2-3 years, and sometimes much longer. 

The pain is identical to that experienced during a shingles outbreak:

● sharp, burning, or deep aching

● extreme sensitivity to touch and temperature change

● itching and numbness

The chances of developing postherpetic neuralgia increases with age. PHN constitutes a significant case of chronic pain in the elderly.