What Medicines Treat Shingles?

The same virus that causes chickenpox is also what triggers shingles. It’s called varicella-zoster. It can lie quietly in your nerves for decades after causing chickenpox but suddenly wake up and become active.

The main symptom of shingles is a painful rash that comes up on one side of your body or face. See your doctor as soon as you can if you think you might have this condition.

Your doctor may want to put you on medications to control your infection and speed up healing, reduce inflammation, and ease your pain. They include:

Antiviral Medications

This class of drugs may slow down the progress of the rash, especially if you take it within the first 72 hours of having symptoms.

They can also lower your chance of having complications. Your doctor may prescribe:

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about side effects to watch for if you’re put on one these.

Painkillers

Shingles causes inflammation and pain. Your doctor can suggest over-the-counter medicines to relieve milder discomfort. They include:

These may also help you stave off postherpetic neuralgia, which is a burning pain that some people get after the rash and blisters of shingles go away.

Other Prescriptions

If you have severe pain after the rash clears or an infection during your shingles outbreak, your doctor might prescribe:

Capsaicin cream: Be careful not to get it in your eyes.

A numbing agent: You might get lidocaine (Lidoderm, Xylocaine) for pain. It can come in a variety of forms, such as creams, lotions, patches, powders, and sprays, among others.

Antibiotics: You might need these if bacteria infect your skin and rashes.

Tricyclic antidepressants: There are numerous medications in this class that might help ease the pain that lingers after your lesions have healed, such as amitriptyline, desipramine (Norpramin), and nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor). They may also help you with depression, which you may fall into when you get shingles. Talk with your doctor in more detail about these.

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Home Remedies

Keep the affected area clean, dry, and exposed to air as much as possible. The itching can be maddening at times but try not to scratch or burst the blisters.

Ask your doctor about creams and other things you can try to give yourself some relief.

Some people find that acupuncture and other alternative treatments help with the pain that can linger after shingles. Talk them over with your doctor first.

Can I Prevent Shingles?

If you had the chickenpox, you may be wondering if there’s something you can do to avoid all of this.

The FDA has approved a shingles vaccine. It’s called Zostavax and has been available since 2006.

It is recommended if you’re 60 and older and may even be helpful for those as young as 50. The vaccine cuts the chance of shingles by about half. Even if you still get it, the period of pain can be reduced.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 13, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke: "Shingles. Seek Early Treatment."

Mayo Clinic Health Letter, June 2002.

Oxman M. New England Journal of Medicine, 2005.

Douglas M. Drug Safety, 2004.

WebMD Health News: "Shingles Vaccine to Be Routine at 60."

FDA: "FDA Licenses New Vaccine to Reduce Older Americans' Risk of Shingles."

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