Shingles: What You Need to Know

Do you know someone who has Shingles?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, most of us are familiar with Shingles, the painful and intense illness which are often referred to as “the adult version of Chicken Pox.” A considerably lesser known fact is that of  the 800,000 Americans who develop Shingles this year, 20% will go on to experience Post Herpetic Neuralgia or PHN.

What is PHN?

PHN is often a long-term illness that can cause extreme pain and sensitivity for years. It has been reported that in one case, the patient’s skin was so sensitive that he couldn’t button his shirt, ride in a car, or even sleep normally. Incredibly, he was reported to have slept sitting up for six and a half  years!.

A common question we hear is whether or not we can give patients a pill or a shot that will relieve or cure PHN?

Sadly, the answer to this question is ‘NO!’  To put this in perspective, the illness is very difficult to treat for several daunting reasons:

  • Patients’ nerves can be damaged by the Varicella-Zoster viruses. The long-term aggravation is that damaged nerves lead to long-term problems.
  • These problematic viruses sometimes set up a chronic infection state in a patient’s tissues and nerves; which prevent a complete healing process from occurring. Moreover, the infection can go on and on, sometimes for years, even when treated.
  • Furthermore, individual responses to various forms of treatment are exhibited in a myriad of ways. What may work well or improve the condition for one person with their specific set of circumstances may not result in any improvement or relief for yet another person.

To add insult to injury, dealing with this type of pain for an extended period of time can result in depression and sleep problems. Studies indicate that the same biochemicals which intensify pain can also be attributed to the cause and intensity of depression. The upside is that this form of depression is classified as reactive depression; and is reversible with treatment. It is noteworthy to point out that reactive depression is considerably different from endogenous depression which is caused by chemical imbalances. Understanding what is happening to you, and why it is happening, can be very integral in helping you to deal with it successfully. Ultimately, medical treatments can help even more.

In fact, there are even topical analgesics that can help relieve the pain of PHN.

If you or someone you know is suffering from PHN, do all you can to educate them and yourself about effective treatments and nutrition. Through proper treatment, the effects of PHN can be far less devastating.

To learn more about about Shingles (Herpes Zoster), visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.