Rashes caused by damaged nerves

Written by jennifer alyson
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Rashes caused by damaged nerves
The chickenpox virus can linger in nerves and cause neurological and health problems years after infection. (Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Several health conditions can cause nerve damage and result in skin rashes. Some illnesses linked to nerve trouble and skin ailments come from well-known viruses, while others have no known cause and are more difficult to treat. It's important to see your doctor if you suspect you have an illness affecting both the nerves and the skin, because quick treatment can limit permanent damage.

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This chickenpox relative is the best-known condition involving nerve damage that leads to skin rashes. After a chickenpox infection subsides, the virus lies dormant along nerves throughout the body for the rest of the patient's life. Shingles, or herpes zoster, flares up when chickenpox comes back to life. The disease starts with tingling and vague pain from nerve damage, and progresses to a blistering skin rash confined to one side of the torso. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, headaches, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes. You're vulnerable to shingles if you're over 60 or if your immune system is weak. Outbreaks last two to three weeks, though antivirals such as acyclovir can shorten the infection period and reduce pain.

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

When the chickenpox virus damages nerves near the inner ear, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome can result. Ramsay Hunt causes rashes on the eardrum, the ear lobe, the tongue and the roof of the mouth, as well as inside the ear canal. Nerve injury can also lead to weakness or paralysis on the affected side of the face, as well as difficulty shutting the eye, eating and making other small facial movements. Doctors treat the disease with a weeklong course of anti-inflammatory steroids, such as prednisone. Left untreated, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome can lead to corneal ulcers and nerves that regenerate improperly.

Polyarteritis Nodosa

This inflammation of blood vessels is an autoimmune disease, a health condition in which the immune system inexplicably turns on the body and attacks normal tissues and organs. Swollen and infected vessels provide poor blood supply to the nerves and cause nerve degeneration and pain. Purpura, a purple skin rash that comes from blood vessels breaking and bleeding into the skin, accompanies the nerve damage. Skin ulcers are another common symptom. The illness afflicts the middle-aged and has been linked to Hepatitis B infection. It's treated with prednisone and other anti-inflammatory steroids.

Microscopic Polyangiitis

Though microscopic polyangiitis also involves inflamed blood vessels that cause nerve damage and skin rashes, such as purpura, it differs from polyarteritis nodosa in that it occurs in people of all ages, involves smaller blood vessels and has no correlation with Hepatitis B. It's also treated differently, with low-dose chemotherapy drugs and immune suppressants, including methotrexate and azathioprine.


Nerve damage and the purple skin rash purpura are common in this blood disorder, which involves malfunctioning immune-system antibodies. More common in middle-aged women and associated with Hepatitis C, cryoglobulinimia develops when antibodies stick together in groups and destroy nerves and organs. Doctors diagnose the disease through blood and urine tests and biopsies, but the condition is rare, so no standard treatment protocols exist.

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