Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is fairly common in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one million people come down with shingles every year, and one in three will develop shingles over their lifetime. While some people may have higher risk factors than others, anyone can come down with shingles at any age.
Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable, but there are steps you can take to ease your symptoms and manage the pain while you heal from them. At Republic Spine and Pain, our pain management doctors and specialists offer a range of pain management services at three convenient locations in Austin, Georgetown, and Lakeway, Texas.
Why shingles can be so painful
If you’ve ever had the chickenpox, you can develop shingles. While it’s more common in older adults and people with a weak or compromised immune system, anyone can get shingles, even healthy people and children.
On the surface of the skin, shingles presents as a painful rash and blisters. The outbreak is caused when the dormant virus that causes the chickenpox is reactivated. It develops along a nerve path on one side of the body, causing pain and tingling that can be severe and debilitating for many people. In fact, nerve pain usually develops before the rash appears on the skin.
For most people, a shingles outbreak clears up within a few weeks and the symptoms eventually go away. But in some cases, it can cause lasting nerve pain and damage, a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia.
Tips for managing shingles pain
Shingles is caused by a virus, so it can’t be treated with antibiotics or other medications you would take to treat a bacterial infection. The virus typically lasts between two to four weeks for most people, but there are many steps you can take to manage the rash and keep yourself comfortable as you heal.
Control the itching
You probably remember from your bout with the chickenpox that scratching might feel good in the moment and almost impossible to resist, but it will only make the rash and the blisters worse, and possibly increase the risk of infection and scarring.
Try to soothe the itching with cold compresses if your blisters are oozing, and colloidal oatmeal treatments and calamine lotions when the blisters have healed. Wear loose-fitting clothing so that your skin can breathe and to avoid irritating the blisters.
Double down on healthy lifestyle habits
Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and keeping up a light exercise routine can support and replenish your immune system as it works to fight off the shingles virus.
Keep your hands (and your mind) occupied
The urge to scratch can feel uncontrollable, so an activity to help you stay distracted and keep your hands busy can help. It can be anything from reading and meditating to knitting or cleaning. Whatever works to keep you from scratching (and thinking about scratching).
See a pain management specialist
Sometimes the nerve pain is just too intense to manage on your own. If you’re experiencing moderate to severe shingles pain, see a pain management specialist for treatment options to help you stay comfortable while you heal.
If you’re suffering from shingles related pain and nerve damage, we can help. For more information, contact Republic Spine and Pain to schedule an appointment at one of our locations in Austin, Georgetown, or Lakeway, Texas.