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Postherpetic neuralgia
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Postherpetic neuralgia

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Postherpetic neuralgia is a painful condition affecting your nerve fibers and skin. It's a complication of shingles, a second outbreak of the varicella-zoster virus, which initially causes chickenpox.

During an initial infection of chickenpox, some of the chickenpox virus can remain in your system, lying dormant inside nerve cells. Years later, factors such as age, illness, stress or medications can reactivate the virus. It can also reactivate for no apparent reason.

Once reactivated, the virus travels along nerve fibers, causing pain. When the virus reaches the skin, it produces a rash and blisters, known as shingles (herpes zoster). A case of shingles usually heals within a month. But some people continue to feel pain long after the rash and blisters heal. This pain is known as postherpetic neuralgia.

Self-care

After talking with your doctor, you may find the following over-the-counter medications ease the pain of postherpetic neuralgia:

  • Capsaicin. This cream, made from the seeds of hot chili peppers, may relieve skin hypersensitivity. It's the only medication approved by the FDA for treatment of postherpetic neuralgia. Capsaicin (Capzasin-P, Zostrix) depletes your nerve cells of a chemical called substance P, which is involved in sending pain messages to your brain. You periodically rub the cream on the involved area of your skin, usually three times a day. Capsaicin can cause a burning sensation and irritate your skin, but these side effects usually disappear over time. Capsaicin cream can be very irritating if rubbed on nonaffected parts of your body, such as in your eyes. Follow the application instructions carefully.

  • Topical analgesics and anesthetics. Aspirin mixed into an absorbing cream or nonprescription-strength lidocaine cream may reduce skin hypersensitivity. Don't apply cream containing lidocaine to your face. Your doctor may also recommend using a cream containing other medications.

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Last Modified : 03/15/08 01:55 AM