Shingles | Treatment


How is shingles treated?

Shingles is often treated with an antiviral medicine to reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms. Acyclovir, famciclovir or valacyclovir are commonly prescribed. Your doctor will decide whether one of these medicines is right for you. These medicines work better if you start taking them in the first 3 days after you get the rash.

Your doctor might also have you take a steroid medicine to reduce your pain and swelling. This medicine will also reduce your risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia.

What can I do about the pain?

To help with the pain of shingles, your doctor might have you take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine such as acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (two brand names: Motrin, Advil).

Applying a medicated anti-itch lotion (two brand names: Benadryl, Caladryl) to the blisters might reduce the pain and itching. Placing cool compresses soaked in water mixed with white vinegar on the blisters and sores might also ease pain and itching.

If shingles causes severe pain, your doctor might prescribe a stronger pain medicine.

How is postherpetic neuralgia treated?

Postherpetic neuralgia is often treated with OTC pain medicines and capsaicin cream (two brand names: Capzasin-P, Zostrix). If these medicines don't help enough, your doctor might try some other treatments, such as a stronger pain medicine or a patch that contains a numbing medicine called lidocaine.

Some medicines that are used to treat depression and seizures can also help relieve the nerve pain of postherpetic neuralgia. These medicines may take several weeks before they begin to ease your pain.

How is HZO treated?

If you think you might have HZO, see your doctor right away. Early treatment with antiviral medicines (usually in pill form) can reduce pain and the duration of symptoms. Your doctor may also give you a corticosteroid (in eye drop form) to relieve inflammation.

Cool compresses can help ease the pain and rash. Pain medicine that is available over the counter, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (some brands: Motrin, Advil) or acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol) may help.

How long will I have HZO?

The pain from HZO, should get better as the rash goes away. With uncomplicated HZO, you should recover in a few weeks, but it may take longer in older or sicker patients.


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 09/00