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Shingles treatments

There is no cure for shingles, but the condition can be treated with antiviral medication which may lessen its severity and help prevent complications. Antiviral medication is most effective if you start it within 3 days of the rash appearing. If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about whether antivirals are right for you.

Over-the counter medications, such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, can be used for pain relief. If over-the-counter medicines are not controlling your pain, your doctor may prescribe other medicines, such as opioids, antidepressants and anticonvulsants.

To help relieve itchiness from the rash, try using cold, wet compresses. You can also try products such as calamine lotion, antihistamines, or aluminium acetate lotions, which are available from your local pharmacy.

What else can I do if I have shingles?

If you have shingles there are several things you can do to help manage the condition. They include the following:

  • Try to keep the rash as dry and as clean as possible.
  • Try not to scratch the rash. Scratching may cause scarring and infection of the blisters.
  • After a bath or shower, gently pat yourself dry with a clean towel. Do not rub or use the towel to scratch yourself and do not share towels.
  • Wear loose cotton clothes around the parts of the body that are affected.
  • If you do need to cover the blisters to prevent contamination, then use a non-stick dressing. Do not use antibiotic creams or sticking plasters on the blisters since they may slow down the healing process.
  • Cool compresses, baths or ice packs may help with the discomfort. Do not apply ice packs directly to the skin. Wrap the ice pack in a light towel and place it gently over the dressing. Wash the towel in hot water after use.
  • If the blisters are open, applying creams or gels is not recommended because they might increase the risk of a secondary bacterial infection.
  • Avoid contact with people who may be more at risk, such as pregnant women who are not immune to chickenpox, people who have a weak immune system and babies less than 1 month old.
  • Do not share towels, play contact sports, or go swimming.

Prevention

A vaccination called Zostavax is available to adults who are older than 50. It is given free of charge in Australia to people aged 70-79. Being vaccinated will not guarantee that you will not get shingles, but it will reduce your chance of developing the condition. Zostavax is not the same as the vaccine used to protect against chickenpox. Read more about chickenpox vaccine at Immunise Australia.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your shingles, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2017

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