Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is the pain that lingers after a shingles attack. Shingles, a disease of the grown ups, is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox in children, the herpes zoster virus.
Herpes zoster virus, after the chicken pox eruption, remains dormant in the nerve roots only to resurface later as shingles. During shingles attack, a particular part of the body, usually one side breaks out in blistering rash that is burning and painful. This frequently occurs in the torso or in the face. Sometimes an eye is also affected. With healing, which takes approximately a week, the associated pain will start to subside. However in some cases, burning, numbing, itching, electrical, tingling pain remains long after the attack.
The most important treatment for PHN is prevention. There is now a vaccine available for those over 60 years of age. At the time of this writing, October, 2011, many doctors and patients have yet to make this vaccination a priority much to the dismay of public health agencies.
Once a shingles attack starts, a patient should be immediately started on anti-viral therapy through the patient’s primary care doctor.
If pain lingers, or if the problem becomes PHN, it is highly advisable for patients to seek early intervention to limit the severity of PHN that can develop subsequently.
Treatments include medications, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, topical patches and nerve blocks.
PHN should be a preventable public health priority.