Postherpetic Neuralgia Overview

PHN Symptoms and Causes

If you have endured shingles but the intense pain remains or returns after the rash has cleared up, you are probably experiencing nerve pain from postherpetic neuralgia (commonly abbreviated as PHN). 10% to 15% of shingles patients develop postherpetic neuralgia.1 Your doctor can diagnose you and provide you with treatment options for the immediate pain. However, you should expect a few weeks or months of moderate pain before you start to notice dramatic improvements.

Postherpetic Neuralgia Symptoms
Read our in-depth article on PHN symptoms.

Burning and stinging are the most common descriptions of the pain from postherpetic neuralgia. Sometimes you may feel shock-like sensations (as if electricity is running through your body).

Even a soft touch can flash overwhelming waves of pain to your brain. This is known as allodynia. Some patients report that a sudden temperature change, such as going outside on a cold or hot day, can also trigger waves of pain.

Postherpetic Neuralgia Causes
We also have a more detailed article on PHN causes.

During your bout with shingles, the virus you were fighting, herpes varicella-zoster, injured nerves in and around the skin where the rash and blisters once existed. As your immune system eventually suppressed the virus, your rash and blisters disappeared. You may have even felt less pain, and you assumed that you had won the battle with shingles.

However, a few days or weeks later, your nervous system can become confused and start to overstate the true extent of the damage. Your bewildered nerves persistently reported pain signals to your brain.

Your body will need a few months for your nervous system to regenerate the millions of complexly woven sensory cells. Over time, the confused nerves in your skin will calm.

While your body repairs the damaged nerves, your doctor can help you with treatments for the pain. Common pain medications, skin creams, and drug-containing patches are all options that you and your doctor can consider.

If you are like most postherpetic neuralgia patients, your pain will gradually go away. There is a small risk the pain will return intermittently, or be with you for the rest of your life. However, the majority of patients experience no postherpetic neuralgia pain within 1 year.2

Updated on: 09/27/12