How to Deal with Shingles – Pain Medication and Treatment

Are you one of the millions of people suffering from the pain of a herpes zoster outbreak?  Herpes zoster is the wrath of chickenpox, otherwise known as shingles, that affects millions of people in the US every year.  Shingles is a painful red rash that turns into blisters that leak a clear fluid when the blister breaks open.

Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox.  The varicella zoster virus (VZV) stays dormant in the body after a chickenpox infection, that usually occurs in children.  If your immune system becomes compromised later in life, this could result in reactivation of the virus, resulting in a painful case of shingles zoster.

How is the immune system compromised?

Prolonged stress, anti rejection medications, as well as HIV/AIDS and chemotherapy all can be an assault on the immune system causing the virus to come alive with a vengeance.  The result is extreme pain and discomfort to the victim. It can start and burning and tingling on the skin that appears to come out of nowhere for no reason. VSV travels along the nerve route, or dermatome and shows up on one side of the body. This is one way that shingles is distinguished from varicella (shingles).

Discomfort due to herpes zoster can be debilitating, requiring pain medication and antivirals to manage the symptoms.  Antivirals need to be taken within 72 hours of onset of symptoms. The pain can last up to six months, and in many cases is chronic lasting for years.

Dealing with the pain:

Discomfort due to herpes zoster can be debilitating, requiring pain medication and antivirals to manage the symptoms.  In order for antivirals to have an effect, the drug should be taken within 72 hours of onset of the rash.

Medication Management:

Corticosteroids for pain:  Prednisone taken together with acyclovir can reduce the pain of shingles by reducing the nerve inflammation caused by active infection.  It has also been shown to decrease residual nerve damage.

Analgesics:  Pain can range from mild to severe and relief may be obtained from over-the-counter analgesics when paid is mild to moderate, while narcotics may be needed for more severe pain symptoms.

Lotions such as calamine are effective when applied to the seeping blisters to combat pain, and capsaicin cream when the blisters have crusted over.  Topical pain patches of lidocaine (Xylocaine) and nerve blocks have also been beneficial in easing the pain related to zoster outbreaks.

Herpes Zoster Keratitis (eye shingles) is a complication of herpes zoster, and is treated with antiviral medications.  This serious complication can cause temporary or permanent vision loss, and needs medical treatment right away.

Another complication of zoster is Postherpetic Neuralgia, a painful condition known to occur after the blisters have healed.  This pain is extreme nerve pain and can exist for up to and more than six months.  Medications that are helpful for this condition include such as topical skin applications, analgesics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants.

Herpes zoster is mostly seen in people 60 years of age and older, although children and young adults get as well. Having had a prior chickenpox infection make you vulnerable for developing shingles.  However, if you have never had chickenpox before and have never been vaccinated against it, avoid people who have an active shingles infection, or you could find yourself with your first case of chickenpox!