Pepper Patch for Shingles

July 1, 2009 3:19:04 PM PDT
It stems from the same virus that causes chicken pox. Decades later, it appears as a painful rash and blisters. Nearly 1million Americans receive medical care for shingles or its complications every year. Typically, treatment means taking daily pain meds, but now a new patch could ease the suffering for months. Eighty-two-year-old Bill Jones has shingles. His doctor sent him home with bandages, pain medications and no end in sight.

"He said that it's just gonna have to run its course," Jones said.

The rash subsided. The pain hasn't. Jones' problem is like 20 percent of shingles cases -- after the rash, injured nerves remain.

"Nerves either heal poorly or they don't heal at all," said Dr. Miroslav Backonja, professor of neurology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Wisc.

Dr. Backonja is testing a new recipe to calm the pain -- a high concentration of capsaicin, a chemical found in hot peppers -- applied through a patch. The theory is it works by disabling receptors on the problem nerves.

"If you pretty much prune off those nerves, you kind of quiet down that abnormal nerve pain," Dr. Backonja said.

In a recent study, 40 percent of people who used the patch for an hour had pain relief for as long as three months.

"Single application provided prolonged pain relief," Dr. Backonja said.

This kind of relief would get Jones back on pace.

"Normally, I do everything," Jones said.

A handyman who hopes being pain-free means a new life for him, and his hobbies.

Side effects of the patch include skin irritation. Capsaicin is also available in cream form. Dr, Backonja says the patch may also work for other peripheral nerve pain problems like diabetic neuropathy.


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