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
As soon as you are diagnosed
shingles, your doctor probably will start treatment
with antiviral medicines. If you begin medicines within the first 3 days of
seeing the shingles rash , you have a lower chance of having later
problems, such as
The most common
treatments for shingles include:
Antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir,
famciclovir, or valacyclovir, to reduce the pain and the duration of
- Over-the-counter pain medicines, such
as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen, to help reduce pain during an attack
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
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:
- Antidepressant medicines, such as a
tricyclic antidepressant (for example,
- Topical anesthetics that include benzocaine, which are available in over-the-counter forms that you can apply directly to the skin for pain relief. Lidocaine patches, such as Lidoderm, are available only by prescription.
medicines, such as gabapentin or pregabalin.
Opioids, such as
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
Treatment if the condition gets worse
shingles causes long-term
complications. Treatment depends on the specific
Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is persistent
pain that lasts months or even years after the shingles rash heals. Certain
medicines, such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and opioids, can relieve
pain. Most cases of PHN resolve within a year.
- Disseminated zoster is a
blistery rash over a large portion of the body. It may affect the heart,
lungs, liver, pancreas, joints, and intestinal tract. Treatment may include
both antiviral medicines to prevent the virus from multiplying and antibiotics
to stop infection.
- Herpes zoster ophthalmicus is a rash on
the forehead, cheek, nose, and around one eye, which could threaten your sight.
You should seek prompt treatment from an
ophthalmologist for this condition. Treatment may include rest, cool compresses, and antiviral
- If the shingles virus affects the nerves originating in
the brain (cranial nerves), serious complications involving the face, eyes,
nose, and brain can occur. Treatment depends on the nature and location of