Sunday, August 25, 2013

Nasal spray made from ‘hot pepper’ eases shingles pain

A NASAL spray made from a compound found in hot peppers could be a new way to treat the severe pain associated with shingles.

  Now United States researchers have developed a spray to tackle this when it occurs in the face. The spray is designed to block pain signals in the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for facial sensation.

  Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus (the varicella-zoster virus). After causing chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in the nerves, where it is kept in check by a healthy immune system.

  But if this is weakened - because of advancing age, stress or disease - the virus ‘wakes up’. This can happen years, even decades, after the initial chickenpox infection.

  The virus then causes inflammation and damage to the nerves, triggering a rash and pain in the affected area - usually the chest or abdomen, though sometimes the face.

  A bout of shingles lasts two to four weeks, but up to one in five people will develop postherpetic neuralgia - severe chronic pain that persists for at least three months. In some cases, it can last ten years or more.

  The pain is variously described as a burning, stabbing, shooting, aching or throbbing sensation; the area can also feel itchy. It is not clear why some people develop pain after shingles.

  But the risk increases with age - postherpetic neuralgia affects one third of people aged over 80 at some time.

 Conventional treatments include low-dose anti-depressants and epilepsy drugs, which dampen down pain messages.

  The new spray, developed by U.S.-based Winston Laboratories, is based on capsaicin, the compound that makes chilli peppers hot. When eaten, capsaicin triggers a burning sensation by activating nerve cells - it’s thought that it tackles pain by desensitising the nerves.

  In a trial at the California Headache Centre, 40 patients with moderate to severe daily pain with postherpetic neuralgia will use the spray or placebo twice a day.

  The researchers say administering the drug, as a spray will be more effective than existing treatments at targeting the trigeminal nerve.

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