Shingle and post-shingle pain can be nerve-wracking

“There’s no way to describe it,” Enumclaw’s Marilyn Hash recalls as she talks about the pain she experienced during a bout with shingles.

“There’s very little relief from the pain.”

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease that causes a painful skin rash. In addition, shingles can lead to severe pain that can last for months or even years after the rash goes away, a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Pain from shingles has been described as excruciating, aching, burning, stabbing and shock-like. It has been compared to the pain of childbirth or kidney stones.

The pain from shingles can cause depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite and weight loss. Shingles can interfere with activities of daily living like dressing, bathing, eating, cooking, shopping and traveling.

Every year in America, 1 million Americans develop shingles – a painful viral infection caused by a reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that’s one out of three people in America who will develop shingles during their lifetime.

Hash was sure she had shingles from the onset. The pain, she said, was there, but it wasn’t until the blisters showed up she knew it was full blown.

But, Hash is thankful she has not had post-shingle nerve pain.

“I did not get the continuous pain, but there’s a lot of people who do,” she said.

It is estimated up to one in five people with shingles, or up to about 200,000 Americans, will experience continued pain after shingles, a condition caused by damage to the nerves.

Unfortunately, the risk of developing post-shingles nerve pain increases with age – especially in adults 55 and older. Most of it because this population is simply too busy for post-shingles nerve pain.

That’s what Dr. Gordon Irving, anethesthelogist and pain management expert with Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, plans to discuss with audience members at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday at the Enumclaw Senior Activity Center.

“Most adults, baby boomers, had chicken pox as a child,” Irving said. The virus, Irving explained, lays dormant in the body and later returns. “Often as you get older it resurfaces.”

In fact, according to educational information provided by Merck, 98 percent of adults in the United States have been infected with the chickenpox virus and are at risk for shingles and the risk rises with age.

Irving zeros in on post-shingle nerve pain, which he said, many people don’t tell their doctor about and “just live with it.”

Post-shingles nerve pain affects everyone’s community and the 55 and older population is especially at risk for developing post-shingles nerve pain. But it is not just adults 55 and older that are at risk. Ninety percent of adults in the United States are at risk for developing shingles – if you’ve had chickenpox, you are at risk later in life.

Post-shingles nerve pain can disrupt sleep, mood, work and activities of daily life. Given that adults 55 and older can experience a variety of other health conditions, understanding treatment options for post-shingles nerve pain can be challenging.

Irving said it doesn’t have to be that way.

Among the doctor’s topics, he will discuss new medication that he said does not have side effects.

Getting vaccinated can also help. The CDC recommends those who are 60 years or older to ask their doctor about the shingles vaccine.