What is shingles?
Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox, a classic childhood scourge. After chickenpox has cleared, the varicella-zoster virus can lie dormant in nerves near the spinal cord and brain, ultimately re-emerging years later in adulthood as shingles. Not everyone who has chickenpox will go on to experience shingles, and how or why the virus reemerges in this way for some people is not fully understood. While the condition itself is not life-threatening, it is very painful and leaves a very sensitive, unsightly rash, most often around the torso. In its most severe forms, shingles can last for years and cause debilitating pain and discomfort.
What causes shingles?
Shingles is caused by the reemergence of the varicella-zoster virus, which is responsible for childhood chickenpox. It is impossible to develop shingles if you have never had chickenpox. However, if you do develop chickenpox as a child, the virus can lie dormant in the nerves near the brain and spinal cord after the initial infection has been cleared. Then, the virus can return in adulthood as shingles if the immune system is weakened or stressed by external stimuli, as this gives the virus an opening to reemerge. This reemergence causes an infection in the nerves and leads to pain and the development of the shingles rash.
The most common symptom of shingles is a painful, blistering rash on one side of the torso. These rashes are often preceded by pain, burning, numbness, tingling, and itchiness at the eventual site of blistering. Some people also experience fatigue, fevers, headache, and light or sound sensitivity, since the condition is an infection of the nervous system. If you develop unexplained pain, numbness, tingling or itchiness in a part of your body that wasn’t injured, there is a chance you could be experiencing the early stages of shingles. Since early detection and treatment is critical to treating this condition, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
What is postherpetic neuralgia?
In some people, pain and discomfort from shingles can last even after the blistering rash has cleared and it appears, on the surface, like the infection has resolved. This condition is a complication of the shingles infection and can be very painful and disturbing to the patients who develop this side effect. Generally speaking, if you experience pain for more than three months following the resolution of your shingles rash, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
Why Choose Pain Consultants?
While there is no cure for shingles or postherpetic neuralgia, there are things that can be done to manage the worst symptoms of these conditions. Examples include:
- Medication management – there are a number of medications that can be used to control the pain of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, including anti-seizure drugs like Neurontin and Lyrica, tricyclic antidepressants like Cymbalta, and opioid painkillers like oxycodone.
- Nerve blocks – injections of local anesthetic to the root of nerves that service the area of your body affected by shingles can help control pain by preventing those nerves from relaying pain signals to the brain.
- Epidural injections – injections of local anesthetic and/or corticosteroids into the epidural space of the spinal canal
- Spinal cord stimulator – harnesses the power of electrical currents to interfere with the pain signals being sent to the brain.