If you have shingles, there are many things you can do at home to help manage your symptoms, like wearing loose clothing or applying a compress or certain lotions to the rash. A healthcare professional may also be able to prescribe certain medications.

It’s important to see a primary care physician or dermatologist if you suspect shingles, ideally within 2 to 3 days of getting the rash. They can diagnose the condition, assess the severity, and prescribe an antiviral medication, if necessary.

Shingles rashes typically last between 2 and 4 weeks. While the rash is not life threatening, it can be painful. In many cases, you may be able to use home remedies to help manage symptoms and reduce discomfort.

Here are some tips to help you manage shingles symptoms at home.

One of the best things you can do following a shingles diagnosis is to start caring for the rash at home until it clears.

In general, the blister-like rash will scab about 7 to 10 days after it appears. It typically takes between 2 and 4 weeks to go away entirely.

During this healing period, follow these steps each day:

  1. Gently wash the affected area with a fragrance-free cleanser.
  2. Let it dry.
  3. Apply petroleum jelly (optional).
  4. Apply a sterile bandage or nonstick gauze.
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly.

Keeping the rash clean is one part of the process. The other important part of caring for the rash is to properly bandage it, especially if the rash is still weeping (oozing).

When picking a bandage, look for one that is:

  • loose
  • nonstick
  • sterile

When switching the dressing, allow the skin to dry before covering it with a new bandage.

In addition to keeping the rash protected, bandaging also reduces the risk of passing the varicella-zoster virus to another person. Be sure to keep bandages on any areas of the rash that haven’t scabbed over yet.

While shingles isn’t contagious, the virus that causes it can be passed to anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. If they come into skin-to-skin contact with the fluid that oozes from a shingles blister, they could develop chickenpox.

It might be tempting to scratch or pick at the blisters, especially if they’re causing you discomfort. Know that they’ll eventually crust over and fall off if you leave them alone.

Scratching at blisters or scabs can lead to infection and scarring. Cleaning and covering them regularly with a new sterile bandage can help reduce the likelihood that you’ll pick at the rash.

To help ease pain and itching, do the following as needed:

  • apply a cool compress for a few minutes
  • soak in a soothing bath
  • use calamine lotion, but only after the blisters have scabbed over

Shingles can be very painful. If you need help managing pain, your doctor might prescribe a topical pain-relieving cream or patch. These contain lidocaine (Lidoderm, Xylocaine) or other nerve block medication for the skin.

A medicated anti-itch cream that includes an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), might also help you find some relief.

After the rash has scabbed over, you can try using creams or lotions to soothe any remaining symptoms. Look for products that contain:

Your doctor may also recommend an oral over-the-counter pain reliever such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Always follow the dosage instructions on the label or take the medication according to your doctor’s instructions.

You don’t need expensive skin care products to relieve itchiness and pain. When a rash is active, reach for a few household products instead. For example, a paste made with baking soda and cornstarch applied directly on the rash can provide some much-needed relief.

To make the paste:

  1. Use equal parts cornstarch and baking soda.
  2. Add just enough water to the dry ingredients to make a thick paste. You don’t want it to be runny.
  3. Apply the paste to the rash and leave it on the area for several minutes until the paste is dry. Then rinse it off gently with water.

Using the right water temperature while bathing or showering can make a big difference in how your skin feels and heals. Ideally, you should bathe with cool or lukewarm water and avoid very hot water.

You can also apply a cool, wet compress to the rash and blisters. Soak a clean washcloth in cold water and place the cloth on top of the affected area several times a day. Leave it on for 5 to 10 minutes each time.

You should avoid rubbing washcloths, sponges, or exfoliants on the area.

You can also add colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch to your baths to provide some much-needed itch relief. Just be sure to dry your skin gently after getting out of the bath. Then, follow up with a layer of calamine lotion to soothe your skin, or let it dry and cover with a bandage if it’s still weeping.

Wearing loose-fitting, natural fiber clothing like cotton is critical while a shingles rash is healing. Clothing that’s too tight can rub up against the rash and irritate it if it’s not bandaged.

Since shingles rashes generally appear on your torso, you may only need to choose loose-fitting shirts, sweatshirts, or tops. Even while bandaged, wearing looser shirts can reduce irritation on the skin.

If you need to wear a mask and you have a shingles rash on your face or neck, consider bandaging the area under the mask until the blisters are fully healed.

If the shingles rash is affecting the skin around your eyes or the tip of your nose, you should immediately make an appointment to see an ophthalmologist. If you cannot see one, see a dermatologist or go to the emergency department for immediate treatment.

If your doctor has prescribed an antiviral medication, it’s important to follow their instructions and take it as prescribed, even if you start seeing improvements. The following antiviral medications may be prescribed to help treat shingles:

Starting an antiviral within 72 hours of the first symptoms can:

  • reduce symptoms
  • decrease the amount of time you have shingles
  • lower the risk of complications

Caring for your skin is a critical step when dealing with shingles. Once you’ve talked with a healthcare professional, establish a daily routine to clean, soothe, and bandage any blisters or rashes.

If you keep a rash uncovered, be sure to wear loose clothing and avoid close contact with anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.

And most importantly, be kind to yourself during the healing process. Shingles rashes are painful and take a few weeks to go away. If you have any questions about treatments or your symptoms seem to be worsening, talk with a healthcare professional.