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Shingles is a viral infection that involves the nerves in the skin. It is a blistering rash that occurs in usually one or two divisions of the trigeminal nerve. It's quite painful, and it can be treated with acyclovir or famciclovir. These are the anti-viral medications that work directly on the virus to shorten the episode.
Prednisone can be used in some cases when there's swelling and severe pain. Antihistamines and other kinds of pain medications can also be used, and once the blisters clear up, Zostrix, which is a cream containing an extract of pepper that actually stimulates the skin and is a distraction from the pain, can be used as well.
The key things to know about shingles are that it's more common in people over the age of 60, it happens in people who had chickenpox at some point earlier in their life, and it's a reactivation of that kind of virus. It's possible to prevent shingles by getting the zoster immunization, and most doctors recommend this. That immunization can often help prevent one from ever getting shingles.
Doctors typically treat shingles with medications called antiviral drugs. There are three antiviral drugs available for treating shingles: acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famcyclovir. These medications can cut in half your risk for developing post-herpetic neuralgia. This serious complication of shingles causes painful symptoms that linger for months after a shingles rash disappears. Doctors prescribe antiviral drugs at the first sign of a shingles rash on your skin.
Shingles attacks can be made less severe and shorter by using prescription antiviral drugs: acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famcyclovir. Acyclovir is available in a generic form, but the pills must be taken five times a day, whereas valacyclovir and famcyclovir pills are taken three times a day. It is important not to miss any doses and not to stop taking the medication early. Antiviral drugs can reduce by about half the risk of being left with postherpetic neuralgia, which is chronic pain that can last for months or years after the shingles rash clears. Doctors recommend starting antiviral drugs at the first sign of the shingles rash or even if the telltale symptoms indicate that a rash is about to erupt. Even if a patient is not seen by a doctor at the beginning of the illness, it may still be useful to start antiviral medications if new lesions are still forming. Other treatments to consider are antiinflammatory corticosteroids such as prednisone. These are routinely used when the eyes or other facial nerves are affected.
The answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Because shingles starts in the nerves, it is difficult to completely take the pain away with medication. For most people, the pain and rash decrease and go away within three to five weeks. There is a condition called postherpetic neuralgia, where the pain continues after the rash is gone. If you are still having pain and the rash is not cleared, you need to make a follow-up appointment with your physician. It is possible there is a deeper condition occurring or that different medications need to be tried for the pain.
The pain of associated with Shingles can be the most difficult aspect of dealing with Shingles. Treatment options for Shingles are prescription antiviral drugs to shorten the length of the infections. These medications are more effective if started within three days after the appearance of the rash. Prescription and over the counter anti-inflammatory and pain medications are used to decrease inflammation and help with the pain, antidepressants may also be used to assist with the pain. Other options used to promote healing and reduce pain are cool compresses on the lesions or cool baths twice a day. Calamine lotion can be used to relieve itching. Avoid heat and hot water as this increases itching. Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing and cover rash with loose gauze after cleansing. You may also want to trim your nails to prevent introducing bacteria when scratching.
Usually, shingles will go away on its own after a few weeks. Sometimes, though, doctors may recommend medications to help speed up the healing and to manage pain. Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir and valacyclovir may be recommended, especially for people with weakened immune systems. These treatments must be started within 3 days of the first symptoms, though - otherwise, they don't really have any effects. Since shingles often causes severe pain, prescription painkillers are often given. Narcotics, antidepressants, and numbing drugs may be used to reduce the pain caused by shingles. Over-the-counter pain relievers and antihistamines may also help reduce symptoms.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.