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Shingles - Treatment Overview

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment may shorten the length of illness and prevent complications. Treatment options include:

  • Antiviral medicines to reduce the pain and duration of shingles.
  • Pain medicines, antidepressants, and topical creams to relieve long-term pain.

Initial treatment

As soon as you are diagnosed with shingles, your doctor probably will start treatment with antiviral medicines. If you begin medicines within the first 3 days of seeing the shingles rash camera.gif, you have a lower chance of having later problems, such as postherpetic neuralgia.

The most common treatments for shingles include:

  • Antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir, to reduce the pain and the duration of shingles.
  • Over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen, to help reduce pain during an attack of shingles.
  • Topical antibiotics, applied directly to the skin, to stop infection of the blisters.

For severe cases of shingles, some doctors may have their patients use corticosteroids along with antiviral medicines. But corticosteroids are not used very often for shingles. This is because studies show that taking a corticosteroid along with an antiviral medicine doesn't help any more than just taking an antiviral medicine by itself.2

Ongoing treatment

If you have pain that persists longer than a month after your shingles rash heals, your doctor may diagnose postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), the most common complication of shingles. PHN can cause pain for months or years. It affects 10 to 15 out of 100 people who have had shingles.3 Treatment to reduce the pain of postherpetic neuralgia includes:

Topical creams containing capsaicin may provide some relief from pain. There is also a high-dose skin patch available by prescription (Qutenza) for postherpetic neuralgia. Capsaicin may irritate or burn the skin of some people, and it should be used with caution.

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