SUMMIT, NJ - As people get older in life, they can sometimes start to feel like the doctor’s office is their second home.
One illness that affects many people is shingles. Each year, there are more than one million cases of shingles and one in three people will experience it. The Pain Management Center at Overlook Medical Center is one of the leading multidisciplinary pain management centers in northern New Jersey and on Thursday, Jan.31, they held a discussion called “Shingles: The Inside Story.”
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox and it remains dormant in the nervous system, but can resurface at any time. As the immune system weakens, it is less able to keep the virus in check. Shingles are most likely to occur in people 60 or older, but can affect young people as well.
The disease is a painful blistering rash that appears commonly on a single side of the torso, but can be anywhere on the body. It forms where nerves from the spinal cord connect with the skin and triggers a sharp stabbing pain. If it is mild a few blisters appear, if moderate a cluster of blisters form and if it is severe they merge into an area resembling a burn.
Doctors Thomas Agesen of NJ Sports Medicine in Cedar Knolls and John Halperin of Overlook Hospital spoke about treatments and how shingles affects people. Halperin said people that did not have chickenpox can still suffer from shingles, but it is highly unlikely.
He said one of the commonly used medicines for shingles is Zostavax, but if the disease worsens it can lead to hearing or vision loss, long term nerve pain that lasts for months and even years, which is called post herpetic neuralgia, or PHN.
Some of the most common treatments for shingles include antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir, famciclovir or valacyclovir, which reduce the pain and the duration of shingles. There are also over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen that help reduce pain during an attack of shingles. Topical antibiotics, which are applied directly to the skin can help stop infection of the blisters.
Agesen said 15 percent of people with shingles will develop PHN and it is more common in women. Suffering from PHN can often cause loneliness and ruin lives, he said.
“It’s something that people really need to think of,” Agesen said. “It’s not just a little painful condition. It really can isolate people.”
Some ways to relieve the pain from PHN are antidepressant medicines, such as a tricyclic antidepressant and topical anesthetics that include benzocaine, which are available in over-the-counter forms that are applied directly to the skin for pain relief. Lidocaine patches and opioids, such as codeine also relieve people with severe pain.
Norma Brzozowski, whose son suffers from shingles, said the presentation was very informative.
“I thought they were very good,” she said.