Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is the worst aspect of dealing with a shingles (herpes zoster) outbreak. The sensation can start days before the blisters appear. Even worse, PHN can last weeks, months, or even years beyond a breakout. For some poor souls, the nerve pain can present itself with no rash making it a mysterious illness to diagnose. Dr. Ellen Rosenquist, a pain management specialist, explains that modern medicine hasn’t uncovered the secret to why some shingles patients develop PCH and others do not. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people diagnosed with shingles will suffer from PCH.
What does shingles nerve pain feel like? The best strategy is to go straight to the source. Listen to stories of others describe their personal experience with this pain. Doctors will chime in on their strategies for dealing with short and long term PCH cases.
What Does Shingles Nerve Pain Feel Like?
As one sufferer, recognized as Joan, told the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases shingles pain was the worst she ever felt. Joan suspected it might be her sciatica in her back that was troubling her. She wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms, but after an MRI came back clear, her doctor predicted she had PCH from shingles. Five days later, a rash broke out.
The feeling often precedes the blisters by a few days. It has been described as a burning or tingling that is sometimes intense. The sensation tends to isolate to one side of the face, neck, back, chest, or waist. If you experience similar feelings but can’t pinpoint a physical injury (exercise, fall, activity) as the culprit, watch for any signs of a rash to emerge.
Treatment for Shingles Nerve Pain
In PCH, the virus can damage the nerve endings and therefore the pain continues to return for many patients. Dr. Rosenquist describes the treatment approach as “rebooting a computer.”
The team tries to shut off the nerves so that when they turn on again, the system is reset to factory settings and operates properly. Here is how that is executed:
- Intercostal nerve blocks. An injection of local anesthetic into the ribcage.
- Membrane stabilizers. Nutrients, like Vitamin E, and other medications in this category are growing in popularity for treating chronic pain conditions.
- Thoracic epidural injections. A shot into the spine of an anti-inflammatory steroid.
- Tricyclic antidepressants. Off-script use of depression medicines, like amitriptyline, are effective for pain management.
Home Remedies for Shingles Nerve Pain
Medical interventions can collaborate with practical applications to uncover relief for sufferers. Among the most popular home remedies for shingles nerve pain is DoTerra oils. These concentrated essential oils offer nutritious support for metabolic and bodily functions, essentially letting the body heal itself more efficiently. The following are great for nerve issues:
- Balsam fir
Dilute any combination of the above, or use one singularly, into a carrier oil like coconut, almond, or jojoba. Rub the concoction into the inflamed area to find relief. It is safe to use the oil blends repeatedly, as needed, throughout the day.
How Long Does the Nerve Pain Last After Shingles?
The rash from a shingles outbreak typically lasts between one to three weeks if treated early on. The prognosis for how long does the nerve pain last after shingles is trickier to predict. If permanent damage occurs to the nerve, the patient may deal with chronic pain indefinitely. For others, the discomfort is a passing affliction that disappears a few days after the blisters disappear.
Approximately 10% to 15% of people struck with shingles will experience PCH pain eight to twelve weeks after the rash clears up. A smaller minority still suffers from nerve pain from shingles years later. When it lasts that long, treatment plans have to change to ensure the person can still function without debilitating pain.
Nerve Pain from Shingles Years Later
When the pain extends beyond 18 months after a flareup, PCH moves into a disability. No longer are you focused on clearing up a rash, but instead reducing pain to a manageable level. The focus moves to pain management and often includes some kind of pain medication.
Prominent choices include:
Pain relievers are among some of the most addictive substances on the planet with a long list of side-effects. It is necessary to have an honest, open conversation with your GM about consuming pain killers (especially opioids) for extended periods of time. Regular use could lead to addiction or abuse.
Shingles Nerve Pain Relief & Prevention
Ideally, it is better to prevent nerve damage than to try to heal it afterward. This isn’t always a possibility, but if you find yourself with a blisters outbreak, proactive measures could help in the long run.
Taking antiviral and antibiotic medications can stop the infection from spreading and can shorten the lifecycle of the outbreak. The less time the sores have to develop scar tissue, the fewer chances of PCH and lower chances of chronic pain. There is also a vaccine available for high-risk groups like seniors over the age of 60.
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