Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

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Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) facts

  • PHN is a painful complication that occurs after a shingles infection.
  • PHN is caused by viral damage to nerve cells.
  • PHN is diagnosed by the patient's history and physical exam.
  • Treatment often requires more than one agent to reduce pain.
  • PHN may last one to two months, but some patients have PHN for longer than a year.
  • Older people and people with relatives who get shingles are at a higher risk for PHN.
  • Complications of PHN may include severe pain, pain-medicine addiction, diminished lifestyle, and in a few patients, paralysis of the affected area.
  • The prognosis of PHN ranges from good to poor, depending on the length of time the disease lingers and on the development of complications.
  • PHN can be prevented in many people by a vaccine designed to prevent shingles (Zostavax).

What is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)?

Postherpetic neuralgia (also termed PHN) is a condition of recurring or persistent pain in an area of the body that has undergone an outbreak of herpes zoster virus (HZ), commonly termed shingles. It usually begins after shingles lesions (blisters) begin to crust over and heal but may occur in some patients who do not produce lesions. Some investigators suggest the pain has to be present for three months to be termed PHN.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/28/2013

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Read about home remedies used in the treatment of shingles, a painful skin condition.

Home Treatments for Shingles

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful skin condition that results from a reactivation of an infection with the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox. The virus is never fully cleared from the body after a bout with chickenpox, and it can reactivate to cause the nerve and skin inflammation characteristic of shingles often decades after the chickenpox.

Antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir) can reduce the severity and duration of the rash if started within 72 hours of the development of the skin rash, and pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve), and even narcotic pain-control medications may be useful in symptom control. In addition to medications, many people find that home care remedies can also provide relief for the pain of shingles.

Keeping the inflamed skin clean is essential, so wash the affected area with cool water and mild soap. Taking a bath or shower is fine. The blisters of shingles will crust over and fall off on their own, and it's important to avoid picking at the blisters to prevent the development of a secondary skin infection at the inflamed site. Cool compresses applied to the painful area after washing may be helpful. In the first few days of an attack, you can apply ice packs for 10 minutes at a time several times throughout the day.