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Shingles Treatment

writtenByWritten by: Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer is a contributing health writer who has been researching and writing health content with PlushCare for 3 years. She is passionate about bringing accessible healthcare and mental health services to people everywhere.

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March 31, 2021 Read Time - 6 minutes

Shingles Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

If you are experiencing a painful rash and you are over 50 years old, you may be concerned that you have shingles. 

How much do you know about shingles? How is it treated? What does the shingles rash look like? Here’s a brief rundown about shingles and shingles treatment.

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What Causes Shingles?

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Once you’ve recovered from chickenpox (usually as a child), the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) remains inactive in the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain.

“Most adults live with VZV in their bodies and never get shingles,” according to the National Institute on Aging. “But, for about one in three adults, the virus will become active again,” leading to a shingles outbreak.

As you age or if your immune system becomes otherwise weakened, the virus can flare up and cause the familiar shingles rash. Shingles is more common in those over 50 and people with compromised immune systems.

Shingles Symptoms

Luckily, shingles symptoms typically only affect one area of one side of your body. Typically, the torso is affected, but the face can be affected as well. Symptoms of shingles may include:

  • Pain, burning, tingling, or numbness
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Itching
  • Red rash with blisters which will break open and crust over
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

The most notable symptom of shingles is actually the pain rather than the rash. The pain often starts several days before the rash appears, and some people do not experience a rash.

Without the rash, the pain of shingles may feel like it is affecting one of your internal organs, which can lead to a misdiagnosis.

When the rash does occur, it’s typically in a band around one side of the torso or face. If you see a rash around your torso or face, it is important to seek treatment as quickly as possible to alleviate your symptoms.

Stages of Shingles: How Long Does It Take for Shingles to Go Away?

A shingles outbreak has multiple stages, and it typically takes 3–5 weeks for shingles to go away. Here’s an overview of the different stages of shingles you may experience during an outbreak.

  • Tingling pain or numbness – During the first stage of shingles, before you notice any rash, you may notice tingling pain or numbness on a particular area of your body.
  • Burning and red rash – Between 1–5 days after the first stage, you’ll notice a red rash on the same area of your body. Your rash may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as headache, fever, or nausea.
  • Blistering – A few days after the rash appears, painful, fluid-filled blisters will start to form. When these blisters break, the fluid may contain infectious amounts of the varicella-zoster virus, so it’s important to clean the area immediately.
  • Crusting – Between 7–10 days after blisters appear, they will start to dry up and form a crust over the rash. After your blisters crust over, they are no longer infectious.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Yes, the virus that causes shingles is contagious, and a person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who is not immune to chickenpox.

While shingles is contagious (usually through direct contact with an open sore), the person who catches the virus will be afflicted with chickenpox instead of shingles.

Shingles Diagnosis and Treatment

Shingles is typically diagnosed based on a patient’s history of pain on one side of their body, along with the telltale symptoms of shingles, particularly skin rash and blisters. Your doctor may take a tissue scraping or culture of blisters for examination in the laboratory to confirm your diagnosis.

Shingles does not have a cure, but there are antiviral medications that speed up healing and reduce the risk of complications. The two main medications used to treat shingles are:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)

Other treatments and home remedies for shingles include:

  • Capsaicin topical patch (Qutenza)
  • Anticonvulsants such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline
  • Numbing agents like lidocaine, delivered via a cream, gel, spray, or skin patch
  • Medications that contain narcotics like codeine
  • An injection including corticosteroids and local anesthetics
  • Wet, cool compresses
  • Cool baths
  • Reducing stress levels in whatever way works for you

What Is the Best Pain Reliever for Shingles?

While the best pain reliever for shingles varies depending on the individual and their specific shingles symptoms, some medications that can help relieve shingles pain include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen
  • Glucocorticoids such as prednisone
  • Opioid pain medications such as oxycodone or hydrocodone/acetaminophen

Shingles Shot

There are two vaccines that can prevent shingles:

  • Zostavax is a live vaccine that is given in a single shot and works for about 5 years.
  • Shingrix is made from a nonliving virus component and may work for longer than 5 years.

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends Shingrix as the preferred shingles vaccine to prevent potential complications from the disease. “People who currently have shingles, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, should wait to get Shingrix,” according to the CDC.

As of July 2020, Zostravax is no longer available in the United States.

Shingles Vaccine Side Effects

Both the Zostravax and Shingrix vaccines have been clinically tested to ensure their efficacy and safety. In most cases, people experience no side effects or mild reactions to the vaccine. Mild side effects may include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Muscle pain and/or soreness
  • Headache

In rare cases, people may experience an allergic reaction to the shingles shot, which is referred to as anaphylaxis. The signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Swelling of the face, including the eyes, mouth, and throat
  • Hives 
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Irregular heartbeat or rapid pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Warmness or redness of the skin

If you experience any of the symptoms of anaphylaxis after receiving a shingles shot, seek medical attention immediately. Without treatment, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Think you might be experiencing shingles symptoms? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician to explore your shingles treatment options today.


Read More About Shingles


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Mayo Clinic. Shingles. Accessed on March 28, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353054 

National Institute on Aging. Shingles. Accessed on March 28, 2021 at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Vaccines. Accessed on March 28, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/shingles-herpes-vaccine.html

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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