Shingles treatments typically involve oral antiviral medications and topical creams. Other options to relieve symptoms include steroid injections and various home remedies.

Shingles, or herpes zoster, first appears as a rash and blisters on your skin. Experts recommend starting treatment within 3 days of a rash appearing. Otherwise, you may experience symptoms for longer.

Serious symptoms of shingles include chronic pain, vision changes, and altered blood flow to the brain. Pain that lasts longer than a month or two is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Speak with a doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment. They can generally diagnose shingles from a physical exam, but you may also need a lab test to confirm shingles.

Treatments generally begin with antiviral medications, but home remedies can also help relieve pain and discomfort from symptoms. Severe cases of shingles may require additional medications.

Antivirals, taken orally, are the first line of treatment for shingles. It’s best to start them within 3 days of a rash or blisters developing.

Antivirals will:

  • help your rash and blisters heal more quickly
  • slow the spread and development of your rash and blisters
  • decrease pain from the rash and blisters
  • reduce the chance of developing more severe symptoms

Antiviral medications for shingles include:

Topical medications are not usually a first-line treatment for shingles. However, a healthcare professional may recommend them to help with symptoms, especially PHN, which affects 10–18% of people with shingles.

Topical creams that may help with PHN include:

  • Lidocaine: Often available as patches, lidocaine is one of the most tolerated topical treatments for PHN, according to a 2017 review. The prescription patches help reduce pain directly in the area where you experience it for up to 12 hours at a time.
  • Capsaicin: You can apply capsaicin cream up to four times a day to help with nerve pain. However, some people with shingles experience a burning feeling with this cream.
  • Eutectic mixture of local anesthetics (EMLA) cream: EMLA cream is a mixture of lidocaine and another anesthetic called prilocaine. EMLA was more commonly used to treat PHN in the past but may still work as a lidocaine substitute.

One case study highlighted a 26-year-old with shingles blisters causing pain and discomfort. She received an alternative topical treatment that included lemon balm, ginseng, lavender, licorice, and trumpet pitchers. The treatment helped relieve pain and reduce blister size and number within a few days.

You may need a higher-level treatment for shingles if you develop PHN.

Antidepressants can help with nerve pain, but a doctor must prescribe and monitor this medication. Two common antidepressants doctors prescribe for PHN are duloxetine (Cymbalta), a serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), and amitriptyline, a tricyclic.

A doctor will prescribe a low dose to start and monitor your symptoms as well as the side effects of the medication.

Anticonvulsants can also treat nerve pain from PHN and need a doctor’s prescription. These may include gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica).

A doctor will prescribe a low dose and adjust as needed. You may experience side effects from the medication, and it can take a few weeks for it to work.

Your doctor may recommend a steroid injection for PHN to treat pain by reducing swelling.

Oral corticosteroids might reduce pain from shingles as well. However, they can also suppress the immune system, so your doctor will need to determine if they are a suitable treatment for you.

Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable, but you can reduce these unpleasant symptoms at home in the following ways:

  • Make sure you keep the blistered areas of your skin clean and protected with a barrier cream like petroleum jelly and bandages.
  • Apply cool compresses to the blistered areas for up to 10 minutes several times a day.
  • Soak in an oatmeal bath to soothe skin.
  • Use calamine lotion on scabbed-over blisters to address itchy skin.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to minimize pain and discomfort.

Tips for living with shingles

Shingles can take several weeks to heal, so you’ll need to adjust your lifestyle while you are recovering from the condition. Here are some effective ways to live with shingles:

  • Make sure to rest, eat balanced meals, and relax so you can heal faster.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Try easy exercise as directed by a doctor.
  • Find relaxing activities to do while healing, such as watching TV, reading books, or participating in low-key hobbies.
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Shingles is a common condition and may leave you with questions. Here are some of the most common ones about the condition.

What heals shingles quickly?

Shingles respond best to antiviral medications taken within 3 days of symptoms. See your doctor right away if you notice a rash or blisters on your skin. Once you receive a diagnosis, take it easy to speed up your recovery.

How long does it take for shingles to go away?

In most cases, shingles will go away after 3–5 weeks.

What triggers a shingles outbreak?

Shingles can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox in their lifetime. You may be more susceptible if your immune system is suppressed, whether through stress, age, illness, or medication.

What are the stages of shingles?

Shingles often starts with pain or a burning sensation in your body. A rash will follow a day or more later. Blisters then appear a few days after the rash.

In terms of healing, blisters tend to clear up after 7–10 days. The rash may take 2–4 weeks to heal, but pain can last for 1–2 months.

Pain that lingers is considered postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This can be chronic or disappear over months or years.

Is shingles contagious?

You can spread shingles if someone touches your open blisters, so you need to cover them until they heal. Otherwise, the condition is not contagious.

It’s important to get treatment for shingles as soon as you notice symptoms. Antiviral medications are the first line of treatment, but other medications are available to help reduce symptoms.

Untreated shingles may last longer and lead to more severe conditions like PHN. Talk with a doctor about shingles prevention and treatment.