What is the Connection Between Shingles and Neuralgia?

J.M. Willhite

Neuralgia is a painful complication associated with shingles infection. Presenting after the initial shingles infection has subsided, neuralgia can persist over the long term, sometimes lasting years. Individuals who develop shingles and neuralgia, or nerve pain, are usually treated with a combination of medications to manage their symptoms. There is no cure for shingles and neuralgia. It is possible to prevent both conditions with the administration of the shingles vaccine.

Shingles is characterized by blisters and a rash which usually appears on one side of the face or on the upper torso.
Shingles is characterized by blisters and a rash which usually appears on one side of the face or on the upper torso.

Shingles infection is triggered by exposure to the herpetic virus varicella-zoster, which also causes chickenpox. Residing in the nervous system, the varicella-zoster virus can emerge at any time, causing a painful rash to erupt on the skin. Individuals of advanced age and those with compromised immunity possess the greatest risk for severe symptoms. The condition is only considered infectious to those who have never been exposed to the varicella-zoster virus or had chickenpox.

The shingles virus usually presents with a tell-tale, inflamed rash that often adopts a banded or clustered appearance. Blister formation is frequently accompanied by sensations of tingling, burning, and itchiness. It is not uncommon for some people to experience malaise, fever, and persistent headache with active infection.

In some cases, it is possible to have an active shingles infection with the intense pain, but no rash. Treating shingles is usually geared toward facilitating the healing process. A combination of antiviral and prescription-strength analgesic medications may be given to treat the infection and alleviate inflammation and pain.

Those with shingles and neuralgia have sustained some degree of nerve damage during active infection. Known as post-herpetic neuralgia when associated with shingles, the complication occurs when affected nerves are unable to decipher or transmit pain signals appropriately. The inability of affected nerves to properly interpret pain contributes to the onset of long-term, intense discomfort.

Neuralgic pain is often localized and very similar to that experienced during an outbreak of shingles. Individuals with shingles and neuralgia will usually experience numbness, skin hypersensitivity, and itchiness in the affected area. Aside from the intense pain, an episodic loss of coordination or impaired muscle function may also develop in the immediate area affected by neuralgic symptoms.

Treating shingles and neuralgia involves finding the right combination of medications to manage one’s symptoms. Antidepressant and anticonvulsant medications are sometimes used to help reprogram the way the nervous system processes pain impulses and ease discomfort. Lidocaine patches and topical medications may be utilized to alleviate temporary flares of neuralgic pain and ease sensitivity. Those who experience intense, prolonged episodes of nerve pain may be given prescription-strength analgesic medications.

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