Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease caused by the same virus as chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. If you had and recovered from chickenpox as a child, the virus continues to live on in some nerve cells, though it goes dormant.
For most adults, the virus remains dormant and never leads to shingles. But for about 1 in 3, the virus reactivates for some reason, causing a painful rash that follows the nerve’s path.
The rash and other symptoms usually abate in about 3-5 weeks, but some 10-18% of people experience ongoing pain, called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which presents in the same area as the rash did, lasts from months to years, and can be excruciating to live with.
The older you are when you develop shingles, the greater the chances you’ll develop PHN. Learning to manage shingles pain becomes of paramount importance.
At Pinnacle Pain and Spine, pain management specialists Dr. Matthew Crooks and Dr. Stuart Rammell understand how incredibly painful shingles can be and how it can negatively affect your quality of life. That’s why they’ve curated these tips for how to manage your shingles pain.
Usually, shingles develops in a single stripe on just one side of the body or face, and in a small area. The most common place is in a band near the waistline. Up to several days before the rash appears, you may experience pain, itching, or tingling in the area where it will develop.
Shingles on your face is serious. If it occurs near one of your eyes, it can lead to vision loss. A facial outbreak may also cause hearing loss, brief facial paralysis, or, extremely rarely, brain inflammation. If you notice blisters on your face, contact us as soon as possible for treatment.
If you contract shingles, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:
Some people only experience mild symptoms like itching. Others experience such intense pain that even a light breeze or a piece of clothing can make them scream.
In any case, you can expect the blisters to scab over in 7-10 days, and the infection to clear up fully in 3-5 weeks. Most people get shingles only once, but since the virus remains in your system, it’s possible to develop it multiple times.
Shingles isn’t a particularly contagious disease, but if you come in direct contact with fluid from the blisters, you can get chickenpox if you haven’t had either chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. Your risk of spreading the virus is low if you keep the blisters covered.
As soon as you notice symptoms of shingles, contact us. With prompt treatment, we can reduce the pain and risk of complications, as well as speed healing. The use of antiviral medications, such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir, and valacyclovir (Valtrex), can help.
To help you manage the pain, we may also prescribe:
We use some of the same medications to treat PHN. They stabilize abnormal electrical activity in nerves damaged by the infection.
You can also practice some self-care to help yourself through shingles pain:
Do you want to learn more about shingles and how to manage the pain? Call any of our Arizona locations — Scottsdale, Chandler, or Fountain Hills — or send us a message online.