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How is shingles treated?

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Quick Answer

Shingles, although an incurable condition, can be treated in several ways to make the duration shorter and lessen complications of outbreaks, as stated by WebMD. Treatment may include antiviral medicines, pain medicines, topical creams and antidepressants.

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Full Answer

Initial treatment for shingles is most often antiviral or antibiotic medicines. If antivirals are started within 3 days of observing a rash, chances of having complications later are decreased.

Medicines used in the initial stages include antivirals, such as acyclovir, famciclovir or valcyclovir; pain medicines purchased over the counter, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin; and topical antibiotics to prevent blister infection.

When shingles cases are more extreme, corticosteroids may be prescribed in addition to antivirals, although this is not a common practice, as some studies have shown that taking corticosteroids isn't really any more effective than taking the antiviral medicine by itself.

A complication called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN, may occur after the shingles rash heals, which, in some patients, can cause pain for many years. Treatments include topical anesthetics such as lidocaine or benzocaine, antidepressants, anticonvulsant medicines including gabapentin or pregabalin and opioids such as codeine. Topical creams that include capsaicin may also be prescribed for pain relief. In most cases, PHN can be alleviated within a year.

Another complication, a rash with blisters called disseminated zoster, can affect the internal organs. It is treated with various antiviral and antibiotic medicines. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus, a sight-threatening complication which manifests as a rash on the face, is treated with cold compresses, antivirals and rest.

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