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Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2002.
Capsaicin is available as a topical cream that has been found to help relieve pain from some arthritic conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been used to treat cutaneous dysaesthesia and neuralgia.
Capsaicin is available as a 0.025% or 0.075% strength cream in a 45-g tube. The trade name is Zostrix® or Zostrix-HP®.
Capsaicin is the purified extracted alkaloid from red chilli peppers (capsicums). This is the substance that makes chilli peppers hot. The purified form capsaicin has been found to relieve pain by reducing substance P, which is found at nerve endings and is involved in transmitting neuralgic and arthritic pain signals to the brain. Pain relief is not instantaneous after application as it is the cumulative depletion of substance P over a period of weeks that brings the full effect.
Capsaicin is approved for use for the symptomatic relief of pain associated with osteoarthritis.
It has been used to treat neuralgic pain including:
Capsaicin cream can be purchased over-the-counter from pharmacies. Capsaicin should be used as follows.
Capsaicin cream should not be applied to broken or infected skin. Seek medical advice first.
Avoid use near eyes or other sensitive areas of the body. If capsaicin gets into the eyes, flush them with water. Wash other sensitive areas with warm soapy water.
Tight bandages should not be applied on top of capsaicin cream.
The most common side effect of capsaicin use is a feeling of warmth and stinging or a sensation of burning after application. This sensation is related to the action of capsaicin on the skin and is to be expected. Approximately 50% of patients will experience some mild to moderate stinging or burning. This sensation usually diminishes after the first few days of application and in most cases will disappear with time and continued use.
Methods used to reduce this sensation include:
If you are not based in New Zealand, we suggest you refer to your national drug approval agency for further information about medicines (eg, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration) or a national or state-approved formulary (eg, the New Zealand Formulary and New Zealand Formulary for Children and the British National Formulary and British National Formulary for Children).
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