If you have ever had chicken pox, the virus that caused it is still living in your body. For one in three people, that virus reactivates, causing a painful condition called shingles. A compound in chili peppers is helping shingles sufferers find relief.
For the first half of 2013, Claire Mack lived with a piercing pain across her midsection. "It felt like lots of needles sticking into that one spot and then it would be just a sharp pain. Sometimes it would go all the way through to the back," she said.
She eventually developed a rash on her side and was diagnosed with shingles, caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus. Lake Charles Memorial Group Interventional Pain Specialist Seth Billiodeaux says, "It usually appears in the thorax or the side, the flank, that's the most common area. But it can appear in the face or head."
Dr. Billiodeaux says antiviral medications and steroids are the first line of treatment. If that does not work, a patch with a potent amount of capsaicin - the compound in chili peppers - is used to destroy the small, painful nerve cells. "It is eight percent capsaicin compared to a quarter of a percent you would find over-the-counter," said Dr. Billiodeaux.
Claire was nervous about killing the nerve cells, but was desperate for relief. "We tried everything else," she said, "I decided that's what we needed to do."
The entire patch application process takes about two hours. The first hour is just numbing the area that has been in pain. The second hour is applying the patch where the nerves will be deadened. "As the medication begins to work, the pain begins to increase and it's a burning sensation," said Claire.
The burning was so intense that Claire asked for the patch to be removed a few minutes early, but it was still effective in zapping the pain. "There's no pain, it's just extremely sensitive," she said, "but that's fine, I can live with that and no pain."
The shingles patch is not recommended for rashes on the face. It has to be administered by a doctor because of its potency.
A shingles vaccine can cut your risk of developing the condition and is especially important if you are over the age of 60.