How is shingles treated?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

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.

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.

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