Uncontrolled studies have indicated that topically applied capsaicin may be a safe and effective treatment for postherpetic neuralgia. In a double-blind study 32 elderly patients with chronic postherpetic neuralgia were treated with either capsaicin cream or its vehicle for a 6-week period. Response to treatment was evaluated by visual analogue scales of pain and of pain relief, together with changes in a categoric pain scale and in a physician's global evaluation. Significantly greater relief in the capsaicin-treated group compared with vehicle was observed for all efficacy variables. After 6 weeks almost 80% of capsaicin-treated patients experienced some relief from their pain. Because capsaicin avoids problems with drug interactions and systemic toxicity, we suggest that topical capsaicin be considered for initial management of postherpetic neuralgia.