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Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)

Some people who have had shingles get a chronic (persistent) pain after the rash goes away called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This is also called nerve pain and it has a distinctive feeling. People often describe it as burning, shooting and really painful. It happens because the shingles has damaged a peripheral nerve. If post herpetic neuralgia occurs after the shingles, the pain develops in the same location.

Medications are often used to help with the pain. The most commonly used medicines are gabapentin, nortriptyline, amitriptyline and carbamazepine. They are special medications which were developed primarily to treat depression or epilepsy but have been found to have the additional benefit of reducing nerve sensitivity.

Sometimes a combination of medications may need to be used. Another treatment option is a cream called capsaicin which is rubbed onto the painful area and works directly on the nerve through the skin. Normal pain relief like paracetamol, codeine, or anti-inflammatories usually don't help nerve pain.

Postherpetic neuralgia often eases and goes away over time, though in some cases it can last a number of years before going away.

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See also:

Chronic (persistent) pain

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2019.

Page reference: 52925

Review key: HIPHN-19404