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What if Pain Persists Even After a Shingles Rash Clears Up?

23 answers | Last updated: Apr 07, 2015
Caring.com User - Leslie Kernisan, M.D.
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Dr. Leslie Kernisan is a senior medical editor at Caring.com and a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics....
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It's common for pain to continue for several weeks after the telltale rash and blisters of shingles have cleared. When pain is still present more than four months later, this See also:
Who Gets Shingles?

See all 15 questions about Shingles
is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This condition causes the pain of shingles to last for weeks or months, sometimes years. At this point, there's no rash, only shooting or tingling pain in a particular area. Some people are also sensitive to touch (even the feel of a sheet on the skin) or to light.

PHN is a common complication of shingles -- about 5 to 7 percent of adults under age 60 develop it, and the risk rises with age to about 15 to 20 percent of those over age 80.

To reduce the odds of developing PHN after shingles:

  • Get vaccinated for shingles (before it happens). Not only does vaccination make you less likely to get shingles in the first place, but if you do get shingles, you're much less likely to get PHN afterward.
  • Get treated with antivirals within three days of developing the shingles rash.

The nerve pain from shingles and PHN can be severe, and often the doctor will need to prescribe strong pain medications. These may include capsaicin cream, a patch that delivers lidocaine, or strong oral pain medicines such as opiates. Some drugs used for depression or seizures are also good at treating PHN, but these can be tricky for older adults -- some of these medicines can cause falls or confusion in a vulnerable elder.


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23% helpful
joyann answered...

I have had the red burning and bumps with tiny white at top. If opened clear fluid, when I pull the white center out. They are from my neck down both arms and hands to fingertips. It hurts all the way to the bone and clothes or light make it worse. I have been given all sorts of steroids to try. I have nerve damage in my neck plus surgery and they say I need another surgery because my hold nerve cord is being pinched by the level above where the floating plate is. Could this horrible rash be shingles?


38% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...



27% helpful
Dove answered...

I am 75 and have had pain of shingles for two years. I had breast cancer and had chemo. I got shingles two years later. The only thing that has given me relief has been Lyrica. I used to take 50mg three times a day,now I sometimes only need it one time a day. Sometimes the rub of my blouse or sweater on my skin starts it to itch. Lyrica has been a big help. I am sorry for anyone who has this itch or pain for a long time.I know just how you feel. Dove


18% helpful
kathye answered...

I had a server case of shinglers I tryed every thing the Doctors could think of I was in bed for 6 months in pain. this is 2 & 1/2 years later I tryed every type of pain pill now I'm on MORPHINE 240 mg A DAY they help but not much This is some BAD stuff! I had the rash on my rib cage going to my spin on one side now it's in my spin it has ruined my back. As of 8 weeks ago I tryed acupuncture give it a try it has helped me alot I know I will never be able to work again or do any thing I loved to do in the passed and I'm still on the meds(not so much) but I can stand the pain and have a better out look on life. Give it a try it helped me alot I won't give up! T/Y And by all means get the shot mine was to late.


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grnjllybn answered...

I had a shingles attack on the right side of my face and head in December of 1997. I still have the excrutiating pain of PHN now, 13 years later. I expect it is a life sentence. If a patient who has what I have is unfortunate enough to have a doctor who is afraid to give serious pain meds, such as opiates, then severe pain is a life sentence. I've had the seizure meds and the needles in an attempt at nerve block and the topical creams, "they"(who know nothing) recommend. Nothing helps but some degree of morphine which doesn't actually make one pain-free, but knocks it down to a level one can live with. But you don't get this without a doctor who understands how bad it is and is willing to give you what you need.


33% helpful
April Sunday answered...

I don't know what Siva's credentials are when he says to take gabapentene 300 mg/day. I looked that up and the medication is "Gabapentin". Also, neurobion forte is Vitamins B1,B6, & B12. I can't find anything that says it helps with itching or nerve pain. I do know that B vitamins help with stress and possibly that is why he recommends using it, to keep the stress at a minimum which will keep the flare ups at a minimum.


29% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

Gabapentin does help, it is for nerve pain. I take 300 mg 3 times daily and back when my Rx insurance covered a larger dose I was pain free. Now I itch and burn. some day worse than others.


An anonymous caregiver answered...

Higher doses of B12 are supposed to be helpful for nerve pain. I just learned of this recommendation recently - Ithink it was actually on the Dr Oz show during a segment on chronic pain.


Suenann answered...

I'm am young for shingles...FIRST breakout at age 37. I am now 43. Have tried EVERY MEDICINE known to man, it seems..I'm mildly to severely allergic to over 3/4's of them. My main course of treatment is 200MCG of Fentynal patched switched every two days with 8 hour crossover time and 10 mg of oxicodone every 4-6 hours. I take anti-viral for breakouts. My right leg is paralysed from the knee down and my left leg, with NO involvement from shigles has developed reflex sympathetic disorder and slowly becoming as painful and paralysed as leg that's affect by the shingles. I received ALOT of relief with a SCS implant TRAIL (spinal cord stimulator) it breaks up the messages to the brain from the nerves and back. Hopefully, if the insurance gods approve, I will have permenant spinal cord stimulator implanted and come off my meds. I haven't driven in two years because of narcotics and I have to have hand controls put in vehicle. I pray that there is a cure found for this, as I am pretty much housebound and have been for two years..,,WIND hurts my legs, anything touching my legs hurt, and they are a beautiful blackish blue color due to nerve damage and blood flow...wonderful!


Lwa answered...

I had shingles when i was 8. I am now 21 and 13.5 years on i still get stabbing pains frm shingle nerve damage although my pain isnt constant but only appears once or twice a month. I hope it doesnt get worse. I had shingles on my right side torso and the shooting pains go through/under my breast and gets unbearable when i bend over. Im worried it will become more constant with age!


An anonymous caregiver answered...

You can have shingles without the rash, wife has had it three times, treated with nerve pain meds and vicoden. Beet to all kinds of doctors, finally sent to a pain specialist, ordered antivirals, witin 2 weeks she was greatly improved. Pain specialist stated 2 kinds if shingles without rashes.


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Mary1234 answered...

I feel bad for all of you. I, too, have shingles. I got it in my right eye. I've had it for almost 4 months. My eye still bothers me and is blurry. The person who said Gabapentine helps the pain and itching is right. I take it when the pain starts and it helps. I'd stay away from anything addictive if possible. It's a tough disease. Those who haven't had it, don't understand what we're going through.


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Shoaib answered...

I had shingles on my right side of face including my right ear, now I have to live with the shooting pain specially on my right ear. every place I had shingles now I have the shooting pain and nothing stop it except Amitriptylin 25mg that make me sleepy even the next day. I avoid to take it since I've to work. Now it is three weeks my face is burning (only one side). I hope this does not stay with me for a long time.


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An anonymous caregiver answered...

I am currently healing from the shingles virus. I took the anit-viral meds and thought everything was going to be okay. I am also experiencing aches and pains in my left hip/groin and knee area (the same place of the shingles rash). I am taking oxycodone for this and wil be seeing a physical therapist shortly. Now, I am feeling stinging, burning pain where my shingles' rash is. The rash itself is scabbing over, but still the pain is making it really difficult to sleep at night. Thank you all for providing me with some insight into this awful virus. I pray we all get some relief soon.


Nickolina answered...

I had shingles on my face and head about 3 years ago....horrible, stabbing pains! I started dabbing colloidal silver on the blisters and they dried up very quickly. I did it 3-4 times per day...worked great. It doesn't help with the pain, but keeping the rash dried up is a plus. Colloidal silver also has antibacterial properties.


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GabyJoe answered...

I'm 57 and I had an 8 week shingles attack at 51. I haven't been the same since - I have very sharp shooting pains in my back that seem to center around a permanent scab/scar from my first outbreak. Recently developed eczema and am having more shingle pain than ever. I take Lyrica at night, which at least let's me sleep without waking in pain but I haven't found a daytime med that won't knock me out - My first bout was so severe I was hospitalized over night twice with every doctor saying they had never seen such a bad case. 7 years later and I still can't find any answers to this horrible disease. It's important to tell anyone you know about the shot - my father and brother both had shingles and I never listened. The doctors all said I had to be 60 but in hindsight that's bullshit!!! If you had chicken pox and you lead stressful life - GET THE SHOT NOW! And tell all your friends - no one should suffer with the pain of shingles! It changes your entire life!


sunshade82 answered...

I got shingles when I was pregnant. I was 30. It was horrible! A 2-3 inch wide band of sores stretched from the middle of my chest, across my right breast, thru my armpit, around to my spine. The pain was unbearable. Being pregnant, I couldn't take hard pain killers so I had little relief. I cried getting dressed, taking a shower, rolling over in bed. I slept very little...i got better sleep with a newborn! Ended up getting an infection in my armpit from the blisters. This might have been from the capsicican (sp?) cream a Dr gave me to put on the shingles. (BTW that is NOT for an active shingles outbreak! !!) Took a steroid to get rid of tue infection. Then that medication for the infection knocked out my immune system and a simple cold I caught next turned into a terrible sinus infection. The immense pain of shingles lasted almost 2 months. Then the skin infection and the sinuses. I was sick for 4 months! It's been almost 3 years and I still have pain weekly in spots that were worse than others. Luckily this is manageable with cool lotion and Tylenol usually. I am now a strong advocate for the shingles vaccine. Too bad it won't help others my age :/


Jzee answered...

Many have advocated the shingle shot. I had the shingles vaccine and have been suffering for months!! The vaccine is not a guarantee.....in my case a disadvantage as I did not get a rash....just horrendous chest pains....hospitalized for two days suspecting heart issues....a slight rash finally developed a week later......have had a nerve block with some relief. Too late for the antiviral.


letsprayforaphncure answered...

I got shingles two weeks ago. Started with stabbing pain for a few days then a rash. It has been almost 2 weeks since getting the rash. First day of seeing the rash I was put on anti-viral. It has been two weeks and the pain is exactly the same unless I take IB, that takes the edge of pain away. The pain is like getting shot about 3-4 times in the side. Pretty amazing pain. Was in the head for two days and it felt like I was getting hit with a hammer every 30 secs. The sensitivity lasted on my scalp (same side as torso breakout) for about 3-4 days then completely went away. Then went to my elbow for a few days (very very sensitive) and then to my knee for a few days. All pain gone in those areas except for my torso. And i'm counting the seconds hoping the pain eventually decreases. The rash seems to be healing and all but the pain is exactly the same. I have told everyone I know to get your as%&*( in to the doc to get the vaccine. what was I thinking ?? I'm 57. hope it helps!! sorry to hear about all those that have PHN. I'm in the clinical drug discovery business so for those curious about studies you can always go to clinicaltrials.gov and search for studies on-going for shingles and phn.


An anonymous caregiver answered...

Don't expect the shingles vaccination to be helpful. My mom got this stupid vaccine and four days later ended up with a horrible bout of shingles. Three weeks later she is still in horrendous pain. I am just furious-I do not recommend this vaccination to anyone!


Mary1234 answered...

I had shingles in the right eye in Oct 2012. I still am taking 300mg gabapentin 3x day. I am learning to live with it. The biggest problem is sleeping on my right side because it itches if touched so if anybody has any ideas for that please let me know.

The first year was the hardest now I've pretty much accepted it and it does bother me less but thank goodness for the gabapentin!