Did you have chicken pox as a kid? If so, you are a candidate for a grown up version of a Varicella-Zoster infection. It is more commonly known as Shingles and is called St. Anthony's Fire in Italy.
After you recover from chicken pox, the virus does not go away. It remains in nerves in your body in what is called a dormant or inactive stage. When an unknown trigger reactivates the virus, you may get tingles, itches, pain, and a rash or blisters. It occurs most commonly around your waist area but can appear on the forehead.
Shingles is treated quite successfully with anti-viral drugs and pain medications. The symptoms last about a month. While Shingles is not contagious in the usual sense, someone who has never had chicken pox may develop the childhood disease if exposed to Shingles.
Over a million people come down with shingles every year. People over age 50 and those with compromised immune systems are most likely to develop it. While Shingles itself can be painful, the worst part of this disease may be due to damage done to nerves by the virus. Called Post-Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN) by doctors, the pain that persists after a case of Shingles has been called excruciating. About one in four persons under 50 who gets Shingles will be plagued by PHN for months or years. If the patient is over 70, that number rises to 3 out of 4.
PHN is treated with pain medications, antidepressants, opioids, and transdermal electrical stimulation. Recently, the FDA approved the use of lidocaine patches to be used directly on the sensitive area. Since pain is different in every person, doctors may have to try many remedies until they find one that adequately controls the pain of PHN.
If you find yourself with a case of Shingles, get medical attention immediately. You may be able to prevent the long term problems caused by nerve damage by getting rapid treatment.