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How do you treat shingles?

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Quick Answer

According to WebMD, treatment for shingles commonly involves the use of antiviral medications, such as valacyclovir, famciclovir and acyclovir, to reduce the duration of the outbreak; over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, to reduce pain; and topical antibiotics to prevent blisters from becoming infected. Beginning medication within three days of developing shingles can reduce the likelihood of postherpetic neuralgia, a persistent, shingles-related pain that can last for years.

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How do you treat shingles?
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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.

In severe cases of shingles, doctors may prescribe corticosteroids, but this is rare, states WebMD. If pain lasts for more than a month after the shingles rash heals, a diagnosis of postherpetic neuralgia is likely. Affecting 10 to 15 percent of patients with shingles, this shingles complication necessitates ongoing treatment. Antidepressant medications; topical anesthetics, such as benzocaine; anticonvulsant medications, such as pregabalin and gabapentin; and opioids, such as codeine, may all be prescribed. Additionally, a topical capsaicin cream may provide relief.

A shingles infection is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus responsible for chicken pox. After a person has the chicken pox, the virus remains dormant in the body and can reactivate as shingles, notes the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms, which typically affect only one side of the body, include pain, numbness, tightness, burning, a red rash, itching and fluid-filled blisters.

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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