The pain associated with the shingles virus can be extreme. The amount of pain you experience will depend upon the severity of your outbreak. With a mild case of shingles, you may only have itchy skin and a minor outbreak of lesions. More extreme cases of shingles will have pain associated with the eruption of lesions. However, there are a variety of medications your doctor can prescribe to ease your discomfort.
What Are Shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. If you had chicken pox during childhood, it is possible for the virus to remain inactive in your system. The virus can become active at any time; therefore, if you have had chickenpox, you are at risk for getting shingles. The rash varies from moderate to extremely painful.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the rash from shingles is more painful and less itchy than the rash associated with chicken pox. Symptoms include burning, itching and tingling sensations on the skin, typically on only one side of your body. These symptoms remain for approximately one to three days and then a red rash or lesion outbreak will appear on one side of the body. A fever or headache can also accompany the rash.
Pain Associated With Shingles
According to neurologist and pain specialist Dr. Anne Oaklander, shingles can be considered a medical emergency because of the chronic pain associated with the affliction. Dr. Oaklander states that the amount of pain you suffer directly relates to how quickly you treat the shingles. The pain usually comes with the outbreak of the rash. Dr. Oaklander recommends seeing your physician immediately when symptoms appear. The sooner you treat the rash, the less likely you are to suffer pain. The doctor also states that there are some milder cases of shingles in which the eruption of lesions is not as severe and the pain is mild to nonexistent.
According to Dr. Oaklander, milder cases of shingles will be manageable without the use of pain medication. However, the majority of cases will need some type of prescription medication to ease the pain associated with shingles. Dr. Oaklander recommends over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication for less severe pain. This includes acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin. If your pain is more severe, physicians typically prescribe one of three anti-viral medications specifically used to treat pain associated with shingles. The generic names for these medications are acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir.
Depending upon the severity of the rash, you may be left with chronic pain even after the rash has cleared up. Dr. Oaklander explains that this has to do with the nerve damage caused by the shingles. If you have had a mild case of shingles, the nerves will be able to recover. However, if you have had a more extreme case of shingles, you may be prone to chronic pain since the nerve damage will be more extensive.