woman getting a vaccine

The Best Treatment Options for Shingles

Shingles is an extremely painful condition that can be hard to treat. The best treatment options for shingles can be a subjective matter, but generally, there are a few different shingles treatment options available. It’s important to know which one will work best for you! Here we discuss the shingles treatments available and when they should be used.

How do doctors diagnose shingles?

Shingles are blisters filled with fluid which appear on your skin. Shingles is diagnosed by shingles rash on the skin. Symptoms of shingles include pain, burning or tingling sensations that may be followed by a shingles rash appearing near your hairline or face which spreads across one side of your body (from top to bottom). The shingle can last for up to 30 days.

Shingles treatment options

There are several shingles treatments that can help reduce pain and shorten the duration of shingles symptoms, so it’s important to speak with your doctor about which one is right for you! These shingles treatment options include antiviral medications (aciclovir), shingles vaccine (Shingrix, Zostavax), and shingles creams.

What is the shingles vaccine?

Shingles vaccine is shingle treatment option that offers protection from shingles and future shingle outbreaks. There are two types of shingles vaccines: Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine) and Zostavax (live attenuated herpes-zoster vaccine). Speak with your doctor to determine what shingles treatment options are right for shingles.

Shingrix contains a weakened version of the herpes zoster virus that causes shingles. It triggers your body’s immune system to produce antibodies against this virus which protects you from getting shingles. Shingrix shingles vaccine is recommended for people 60 years of age and older who have never had shingles or herpes zoster, but it’s best to speak with your doctor first about any questions you may have regarding this shingle treatment option.

Zostavax is no longer available in the US as of November 2020.

Who should not get the shingles vaccine?

pregnant woman

Generally, people with suppressed immune system should steer away from the vaccine. Also, if you:

  • have severe reactions to vaccines
  • are pregnant
  • are breastfeeding
  • currently have shingles or herpes zoster
  • have diabetes
  • have cancer
  • undergoing chemotherapy

Potential side effects of shingles vaccine

Studies over the years have shown that shingles vaccines, especially Shingrix, are safe. Most people get sore on the arm after vaccination and may experience some of the following side effects:

  • pain at injection site
  • fever
  • shivering
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue

In rare cases, shingles vaccine may lead to pneumonia and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).

Antiviral drugs for shingles

Antiviral shingles treatments are available in the form of oral medication, shingles creams or shingle patches. They work by stopping the virus from multiplying within your body to reduce shingles symptoms and shorten their duration. Antivirals for shingles include acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex).

What are shingles creams?

Shingle creams, like shingles vaccine, are shingle treatment options that can help relieve shingles symptoms. They usually contain menthol or camphor which provides pain relief and helps reduce shingles rash by cooling the skin. These shingles creams provide temporary itch relief but should never be used on children under age two.

Home remedies for shingles

essential oils

The following cannot actually treat shingles, but may alleviate some of the pain and itchiness.

  • Essential oils such as chamomile, eucalyptus, or tee tree oil. These oils have anti-inflammatory properties which can help shingles symptoms.
  • Lavender, aloe vera gel. These shingle treatment options soothe the skin and reduce itching sensations caused by shingles rash.
  • Baking soda paste or oatmeal bath to relieve shingles pain and itchiness. Mix baking soda with water to make a paste and apply on shingles rash. For an oatmeal bath, mix oats with water to make a paste or add them to your usual bathing routine.
  • Cold compress. Cold shingles treatment options work as an anti-inflammatory and can relieve shingles pain. Use ice packs or cold compresses for five to ten minutes three times a day.
  • Dietary changes. A healthy diet never fails at preventing illnesses. Foods rich in carotenoids help strengthen immune function. Examples of this include carrots, pumpkin, watermelon, cherries, red pepper, spinach, parsley, and kale.
  • Vitamin supplements. Taking vitamins D, C, zinc, and selenium supplements can help improve immunity especially for older people.
  • Quitting smoking. Smoking weaken the immune system and increase your risk of shingles.
  • Avoid stress. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or even a massage can help reduce shingles symptoms caused by stress.

What shingles treatment option is best for me?

The shingle treatments that work best for you will depend on your symptoms. The shingles vaccine, Shingix, provides the most protection against shingles but can only be used by shingles-free adults 60 years of age and older.

Shingles creams can provide short term relief from shingle symptoms, but they are usually not recommended for children or pregnant women due to the risk of side effects. Antiviral shingles treatments work best to lessen the pain associated with shingles as well as shorten shingles duration. Speak with your doctor to determine what shingle treatment option is best for you.

Are there painkillers for shingles?

Painkillers for shingles are available over-the-counter and by prescription. They work to reduce shingles symptoms such as pain, burning or itching sensations that may be experienced with shingle rash outbreaks. Painkillers can come in the form of oral medication, topical creams , ointments, patches, gels and suppositories.

How to avoid getting shingles

Shingles can be prevented with shingles vaccine. It is also best to stay away from people who have shingle-like symptoms. If you’ve been diagnosed with shingles, it’s important to keep the shingle rash clean and dry which will help prevent infection.

Can I get shingles more than once?

Yes, shingles can reoccur, especially for people with weakened immune systems. This is why it’s important to speak with your doctor about shingles treatment options like shingles vaccine that offer protection against future shingle outbreaks.

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