Treatment

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment can help ease your symptoms until the condition improves.

Shingles

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment can help ease your symptoms until the condition improves. In many cases, shingles gets better within around two to four weeks.

However, it's still important to see your GP as soon as possible if you recognise the symptoms of shingles, as early treatment may help reduce the severity of the condition and the risk of potential complications.

 

Self-Care

If you develop the shingles rash, there are a number of things you can do to help relieve your symptoms, such as:

  • Keeping the rash as clean and dry as possible – this will reduce the risk of the rash becoming infected with bacteria.
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing – this may help you feel more comfortable.
  • Not using topical (rub-on) antibiotics or adhesive dressings such as plasters – this can slow down the healing process.
  • Using a non-adherent dressing (a dressing that will not stick to the rash) if you need to cover the blisters – this avoids passing the virus to anyone else.

Calamine lotion has a soothing, cooling effect on the skin and can be used to relieve the itching.

If you have any weeping blisters, you can use a cool compress (a cloth or a flannel cooled with tap water) several times a day to help soothe the skin and keep blisters clean.

It's important to only use the compress for around 20 minutes at a time and stop using them once the blisters stop oozing. Don't share any cloths, towels or flannels if you have the shingles rash.

Antiviral Medication

As well as painkilling medication, some people with shingles may also be prescribed a course of antiviral tablets lasting 7 to 10 days. Commonly prescribed antiviral medicines include aciclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir.

These medications cannot kill the shingles virus, but can help stop it multiplying. This may:

  • Reduce the severity of your shingles.
  • Reduce how long your shingles lasts.
  • Prevent complications of shingles, such as postherpetic neuralgia (although the evidence for this is uncertain).

Antiviral medicines are most effective when taken within 72 hours of your rash appearing, although they may be started up to a week after your rash appears if you are at risk of severe shingles or developing complications.

Side effects of antiviral medication are very uncommon, but can include:

Who may be prescribed antiviral medication?

If you are over 50 years of age and have symptoms of shingles, it is likely you will be prescribed an antiviral medication.

You may also be prescribed antiviral medication if you have:

  • shingles that affects one of your eyes
  • a weakened immune system
  • moderate to severe pain
  • a moderate to severe rash

Pregnancy and antiviral medication

If you are pregnant and have shingles, it is likely your GP will discuss your case with a specialist to decide whether the benefits of antiviral medication significantly outweigh any possible risks. Shingles will not harm your unborn baby.

If you are under 50 years of age, you are at less risk of developing complications from shingles anyway, so you may not need antiviral medication.

Children and antiviral medication

Antiviral medication is not usually necessary for otherwise healthy children because they usually only experience mild symptoms of shingles and have a small risk of developing complications.

However, if your child has a weakened immune system, they may need to be admitted to hospital to receive antiviral medication directly into a vein (intravenously).