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Understanding shingles - treatment

What are the treatments for shingles?

Although you can take steps to shorten the duration of a shingles outbreak, the virus must often simply run its course. Postherpetic neuralgia - where pain is experienced at the site of a previous shingles infection - can be difficult to manage and can last months or even years. So the best approach is early and prompt treatment. Also, early medical attention may prevent or reduce the scarring that shingles can cause.

Conventional medicine

Your doctor may suggest medications to reduce inflammation, ease pain and control the infection. These are examples of medications you may use:

  • Painkillers such as paracetamol can relieve mild pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are also often helpful for pain.
  • Antiviral drugs may help stop progression of the rash, especially if used early in the course of the blister breakout. These drugs may also help stave off the painful after effects of shingles known as postherpetic neuralgia.
  • Antibiotics can treat any secondary bacterial infection.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants or epilepsy medication may be prescribed for pain that lingers after lesions have healed. Antidepressants may also help with depression that can occur following shingles infection or as a result of the lingering pain.

At-home remedies:

  • Keep the affected area clean, dry and exposed to air (without clothes covering it) as much as possible. Don't scratch or burst the blisters. If the pain keeps you from sleeping, try snugly binding the area with an elastic sports bandage making sure it doesn't stick to the skin.
  • For the first three or four days try ice wrapped in a cloth for 10 minutes on, five minutes off, every few hours. Later apply cool, wet compresses soaked in aluminium acetate, available over the counter in the form of astringent solution, powder packets or effervescent tablets.
  • Other remedies for itching include frequent applications of calamine lotion, vitamin E oil or gel from the aloe vera plant. Dusting a powder of colloidal oatmeal - which are like rolled oats and available in some health shops and online - where clothes rub against your skin or taking a warm (not hot) bath with colloidal oatmeal may help reduce pain and itching.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on January 09, 2013

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