Postherpetic neuralgia is a complication of shingles most often experienced by the elderly. There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding the condition. This article should clear up any postherpetic neuralgia myths you might have heard.
Myth: Postherpetic neuralgia is an imagined condition
Postherpetic neuralgia cannot be seen because it is caused by damaged nerves. But the pain is very real. Sometimes the pain is so awful that it interferes with daily life. It can even cause depression. If you have postherpetic neuralgia, it is important to seek treatment.
Myth: You can wait for the pain to go away
You may be tempted to wait out the infection, but in certain situations you should see your doctor to make sure your body doesn't suffer further damage:
- If the neuralgia spreads to your eyes, it can cause blindness if it is not treated
- Extreme pain can cause nerve damage if left untreated
Myth: Postherpetic neuralgia is an "old person" problem
While age is a factor in postherpetic neuralgia, and the elderly are more likely to develop it, there are other risk factors. Women are more likely to develop the condition, as are those with weakened immune systems. Letting shingles go untreated may also increase your odds of developing postherpetic neuralgia. Extreme stress, anxiety and personality disorders are also believed to have an affect.
Myth: Postherpetic neuralgia causes constant pain
People may experience different types of pain during postherpetic neuralgia. The pain may feel stabbing, sharp, shooting or come on suddenly. You may feel sensations of burning, aching, itching or hypersensitivity. Pain may be triggered by a light touch, a gust of wind or a change in temperature. The pain may be continuous, or it may come and go. Unfortunately, the pain may last for months, or even years.
Myth: Postherpetic neuralgia is contagious
You can't give postherpetic neuralgia to anyone else. It is caused by shingles, which was caused by the herpes zoster virus that gave you chickenpox as a child. People who have shingles are contagious, but only for about a week after the rash is formed. By the time you develop postherpetic neuralgia, you are no longer contagious. By the way: You cannot catch shingles from someone else, but you can catch the chickenpox from a person with shingles if you haven't had it already.
Myth: You can't prevent postherpetic neuralgia
Seeking treatment early in the development of shingles can help reduce the likelihood of developing postherpetic neuralgia. The shingles vaccine can keep you from developing shingles. If you develop shingles anyway, the vaccine usually reduces your risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia or getting shingles again.
Myth: Postherpetic neuralgia is the only complication of shingles
Sometimes people can develop a postherpetic itch instead of neuralgia. Other complications include:
- Shingles around your eyes and forehead can cause eye infections and vision loss
- Shingles around or in the ear can cause hearing loss, vertigo or weakness in facial muscles
- Rarely, shingles spreads to the brain and spinal cord, which can cause stroke or meningitis.
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