How is shingles treated?

There is no cure for shingles but there are treatments for managing the symptoms. Antiviral medications (such as acyclovir [Zovirax®], famciclovir [Famvir®], and valacyclovir [Valtrex®]) may ease the discomfort and may reduce the duration of the symptoms, particularly if started within 72 hours of the first sign of shingles. Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) can be effective in relieving mild pain. Antibacterial agents can be given to treat bacterial infections of the shingles rash (if this occurs).

If I have disseminated zoster/shingles (more than one area of blisters), what can I expect for my hospital stay?

It is important to note that most people with shingles do not need to be in a hospital, but if you do:

  • You will be in an airborne-contact isolation room.
  • The door will be kept closed.
  • A sign on your door will remind people who have never had chickenpox or the vaccine not to enter.
  • The sign will also remind staff to wear gowns and gloves when entering the room.

If I have localized shingles (only one area of my body) that cannot be covered, what can I expect for my hospital stay?

  • You will be in a contact isolation room.
  • The sign on the door will remind staff to wear gowns and gloves when entering the room.

What are the complications of shingles?

After the shingles rash has disappeared, you might continue to have nerve pain in that same area. This pain, called postherpetic neuralgia, can last for months or years and become quite severe.

About 10% to 15% of people who get shingles develop postherpetic neuralgia. Researchers don’t know why some people get postherpetic neuralgia and others don’t. It may be that nerves become more sensitive or the virus may be invading and damaging the central nervous system.

Other complications include other types of nerve issues like numbness or itching, bacterial infection of the shingle rash, and eye and ear inflammation if the rash is near these organs.

How is postherpetic neuralgia treated?

Treatments include lotions or creams (such as lidocaine or capsaicin) and/or other medications not specifically used for pain, such as antidepressants or drugs for epilepsy. Regular pain relievers are not usually effective for this type of pain.

If pain doesn’t lessen, other treatments such as nerve blocks or steroid injections near the area where the nerves exit the spine can be tried. Implantable nerve stimulator devices are an option for severe, ongoing pain that has not responded to other treatments.

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