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How Can You Treat Shingles?

By Matthew Cullen

Every year, a million Americans seek treatment for shingles pain, as reported by the Association for Healthcare Research and Quality. The likelihood is highest for people 65 and older and occurs when the varicella zoster virus causes the dormant chickenpox virus to reactivate. The Centers of Disease Control recommend that people over the age of 60 get the Zostavax immunization to prevent health problems linked to shingles. For 15% of all patients, the severe pain of shingles lasts for a month or more. This excruciatingly painful condition is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

When asked how bad the pain is, Dr. Robert Dworkin, PhD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center explains: “For some patients, even the light touch of a Q tip on their skin is excruciating.” He said most of his patients feel the pain first and then a rash appears on one side of the chest or face. Even though the outbreak itself lasts just three or four weeks, the pain can extend for months.

Treatment for shingles pain can speed the healing of the painful rash, decrease the pain of the rash and make PHN less likely to occur. Within 72 hours of the rash’s appearance, doctors typically prescribe antivirals (like acyclovir) to combat the virus itself. Effective medicine for pain may include opioids (like morphine, codeine, oxycodone or fentanyl), anti-inflammatory medicine (like ibuprofen), anticonvulsants (like gabapentin or pregabalin) or anti-depressants (like amitriptyline or nortryptyline). The most common side effects of oral medication are drowsiness, nausea and constipation.

If left untreated, patients increase their risk of experiencing chronic pain which can persist for months or even a year following the first flare up. This happens because the nerves frequently get damaged when the reactivated herpes zoster virus passes throughout the system.

A recent analysis established that a new surgical procedure can provide pain relief for those who suffer from PHN. In a brief procedure, surgeons implanted a small pump system below the skin in the abdomen, with a small tube inserted in the spine to dispense pain relieving medicine such as morphine. This treatment led to a significant improvement in pain, and no negative reactions were reported.

Seventy-five is the average age of candidates for the pain pump treatment for shingles, and the patients who benefit most are those who cannot be helped by oral pain medication. Some patients respond to opioid medications but suffer severe nausea and debilitating drowsiness with the oral method, whereas there have been no side effects from the pump. It is, however, a surgical, invasive procedure, so patients should consider other options before receiving this type of medication treatment.

Shingles disease can be a particularly nasty virus because it causes great discomfort to the sufferer. Shingles disease symptoms affect huge expanses of skin, and can do physical damage as well as psychological damage.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Cullen, Matthew "How Can You Treat Shingles?." How Can You Treat Shingles?. 4 Jul. 2010. 1 Aug 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Cullen, M (2010, July 4). How Can You Treat Shingles?. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Cullen, Matthew "How Can You Treat Shingles?"

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