Postherpetic neuralgia is the most common complication of shingles, which is also known as herpes zoster, which is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus. The condition affects nerve fibers and skin, causing burning pain that lasts long after the rash and blisters of shingles disappear.
The risk of postherpetic neuralgia increases with age, primarily affecting people older than 60. There’s no cure, but treatments can ease symptoms. It is recommended that people get the vaccine to prevent flare-ups of shingles For most people, postherpetic neuralgia improves over time.
The signs and symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia are generally limited to the area of your skin where the chicken pox rashes occurred during the first outbreak. This is most commonly in a band around your trunk, usually on one side of your body.
Signs and symptoms might include:
- Pain that lasts three months or longerafter the shingles rash has healed. The associated pain has been described as burning, sharp and jabbing, or deep and aching.
- Sensitivity to light touch.People with the condition often can’t bear even the touch of clothing on the affected skin (allodynia).
- Itching and numbness.Less commonly, postherpetic neuralgia can produce an itchy feeling or numbness.
Postherpetic neuralgia occurs if your nerve fibers are damaged during an outbreak of shingles. Damaged fibers send messages from your skin to your spinal cord but the messages become confused and exaggerated, causing chronic, often excruciating pain that can last months — or even years.
When you have shingles, you might be at greater risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia as a result of:
- Age. You’re older than 50 because the immune system is weakened.
- Severity of shingles: You had a severe rash and severe pain.
- Other illness: You have a chronic disease, such as diabetes.
- Shingles location: You had shingles on your face or torso.
- Your shingles antiviral treatment was delayed for more than 72 hours after your rash appeared.
Depending on how long postherpetic neuralgia lasts and how painful it is, people with the condition can develop other symptoms that are common with chronic pain, such as depression, fatigue, insomnia, change in appetite, concentration problems.