What Meds Treat and Prevent Shingles?

The virus that causes chickenpox is also what causes 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, cut inflammation, and ease your pain. They include:

Antiviral Medications

These medicines may slow down the progress of the shingles rash, especially if you take them 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 medicine: 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 medicines if bacteria infect your skin and rashes. But if bacteria aren’t involved, then antibiotics won’t help.

Tricyclic antidepressants : There are many of these medications that might help ease the pain that lingers after your skin has healed, such as amitriptyline, desipramine (Norpramin), and nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor). They may also help you with depression, if you have that in addition to shingles. Your doctor can tell you what the risks and benefits are.

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Home Care

There aren’t home remedies for shingles. But there are things you can do to help your skin heal.

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 complementary treatments help with the pain that can linger after shingles. Let your doctor know first if you want to try these.

Can I Prevent Shingles?

There is a shingles vaccine. It’s called Zostavax and has been available since 2006.

Who should get it: The CDC recommends that you get this vaccine if you’re 60 or older. It may even be helpful for those as young as 50. You can ask your doctor if you should get it if you’re in your 50s.

How many shots do you need? One.

What it does: The shingles vaccine won’t erase your odds of getting shingles. But it will cut the chance of developing shingles by about half. Even if you still get shingles, the vaccine may help it be less painful.

I never had chickenpox. Do I still need the shingles vaccine? Yes, you do. It’s recommended for everyone age 60 and older, whether or not you remember having had chickenpox.

If I’ve had shingles, can I still get the vaccine? Yes. It may help prevent you having another bout of shingles later on. If you have shingles right now, you should probably wait until the rash is gone before you get vaccinated.

What are the side effects? The most likely side effects are redness, soreness, swelling, or itching where you get the shot, and headache. It’s less likely, but you could get a rash that looks like chickenpox near where you got the shot, or an allergic reaction to it.

Who Shouldn’t Get the Shingles Vaccine?

Don’t get this vaccine if:

  • You’re allergic to any of the ingredients.
  • You have a weak immune system, either because of a condition or due to certain medicines.
  • You’re pregnant.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on /2, 17

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."

Vaccines.Gov: “Shingles (Herpes Zoster).”

CDC: “What Everyone Should Know About Shingles Vaccine.”

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