Post Herpetic Neuralgia and Elderly People

The most important factor in post herpetic neuralgia is the age of the person who contracts shingles.  In fact both shingles and PHN are seen as a disease of the elderly though of course it can affect all ages. 

Here are some facts:

  • At the age of 55, twenty five per cent of those with shingles will develop PHN
  • At the age of 60, fifty per cent of those with shingles will develop PHN
  • At the age of 70, seventy per cent of those with shingles will develop PHN
  • Pain lasting more than 1 year occurs in forty eight per cent of patients older than 70
  • Women are more susceptible to PHN
  • Four times more white people than black people will develop PHN
  • The condition is not fatal

Treating shingles early – that is within three days of developing the rash – may well reduce the length and severity of any PHN that develops and could prevent it from developing at all.

How is life affected by PHN?

Pain from nerve damage is among the worst types of pain and it is important for those caring for someone suffering from PHN to be aware of the extent of the pain they may be enduring and to ensure that they receive sufficient treatment for pain relief.

To give you some idea of what it must be like to be suffering from PHN and shingles, think of the worst pain you have ever suffered and then multiply it several times over. When you have PHN, damaged nerve fibers send confused and exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain and it is this that leaves the affected area of skin sensitive to even the slightest touch. Some people suffer pain just from having their hair brushed or even from slight changes in the temperature. Then it is hard to find a comfortable position to either sit or lie down. 

The pain can sometimes be so severe that people have to put their lives “on hold” for months and they often have to rely on family members or a professional caregiver to look after them for that period of time. Although some people must live with post herpetic neuralgia for the rest of their lives, most can expect the condition to disappear gradually on its own within five years.