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Treatment. Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

By Editorial Team (Y)
January 31, 2022
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Herpes zoster treatment

No cure for shingles exists, but starting herpes zoster treatment right away with antiviral medications can help you heal faster and can also help reduce the risk of complications. These drugs are available only by prescription. Medications sometimes used as herpes zoster treatment include:

  • Famciclovir (Famvir)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)

Side effects of shingles may also be very painful. To help control pain, your doctor may also recommend:

  • Topical creams, sprays, or gels that contain anesthetics like lidocaine to numb the skin temporarily
  • Capsaicin cream
  • Narcotic medications
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Anticonvulsant medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • An injection of a steroid medication

Most of the time, an episode of shingles resolves in two to six weeks. It is possible to get shingles more than once, but most people only get them once.

Shingles prevention

You may prevent the side effects of shingles if it is diagnosed early enough and treatment is commenced. In addition, two vaccines may help in shingles prevention. These are the varicella-zoster (shingles) and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines.

Shingles vaccine

  • Chickenpox vaccine: The varicella vaccine, Varivax, is now a routine immunization given in childhood to prevent chickenpox. Adults who have never had chickenpox are also advised to have this vaccination. While Varivax cannot guarantee protection against shingles or chickenpox, it will reduce the severity of this illness if you get them and reduce your risk of complications. 
  • Shingles vaccine: Zostavax is the varicella-zoster vaccine for shingles prevention. It has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for people 50 years old and above. It is for shingles prevention only and is not for herpes zoster treatment. It does not guarantee protection against shingles, but it will reduce the severity of the illness if it does develop and can reduce the risk of complications such as postherpetic neuralgia. Zostavax contains live viruses and cannot be given to those people whose immune system is weakened by illness or medication. 

Side effects of shingles

Side effects of shingles can be due to their link to chickenpox stemming from the same virus, “Varicella-Zoster”. While in its active stage, shingles can pose these effects:

  • A continuous burning and aching
  • Periodic piercing pain
  • Severe spasms similar to an electric shock
  • Allodynia (pain caused by very little stimulation such as light breeze, the touch of clothing on the skin)
  • Hyperalgesia results in a more intense response to pain than usual

Shingles can affect your sleep, work, and daily activities with the discomfort it presents. Other side effects of shingles may also include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression

The development of Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN) adds to the side effects of shingles in some patients, and this is a severe pain that lasts for more than a month. 

Nerve damage

The herpes zoster virus can cause long-term damage and scarring to the nerves of the spine when it causes persistent inflammation during its attack. If nerves heal abnormally, it can result in a higher response to pain receptors inside the brain Side effects of shingles like PHN will affect people who are: 

  • Over the age of 60 years (25%) and the risk of it prevailing longer is more so for older people
  • Sometimes women are at higher risk of developing shingles than men

PHN can last for approximately three months, but there is a small chance that pain can persist for a year. 

The side effects of shingles on the face and ears

Some patients can experience Ramsey Hunt Syndrome, which results in the paralysis of the face and a rash on the ear known as herpes zoster oticus. Ramsey Hunt Syndrome can result in: 

  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ears
  • A chance of permanent facial paralysis
  • In some cases, swelling of the brain

Patients may also experience Bells Palsy, the partial paralysis of the face, which is another side effect of shingles on the face. Herpes zoster can also affect the eyes with a retina infection called “Imminent Acute Retinal Necrosis Syndrome”.

Natural treatment measures to help alleviate shingles

Natural treatment for shingles from home is possible and could be effective. Taking good care of your skin’s rashes is very important. You can use baking soda to help dry out the sores and help them heal faster. Using a cool, moist compress mist followed by calamine lotion can ease the discomfort. Avoid scratching or picking at the sores, as this will only worsen the condition.

Shingles vaccine side effects

The most common shingles vaccine side effects include redness, pain, swelling, itching, warmth, hard lump, or bruising in the region where the shot was given.

Another less typical shingles vaccine side effects are:

  • fever
  • joint pain
  • allergic reaction
  • chickenpox
  • shingles
  • nausea
  • swollen glands near the site of injection
  • hives at the site of injection
  • muscle pain
  • rash on the injection site or in another area of the body
  • loss of movement in facial muscles
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome

Useful advice

If you can, try to find ways to relax and eliminate stress. Some people find deep breathing exercises or meditation helpful. Seek immediate treatment when you suspect shingles because the longer it goes untreated, the more severe the side effects of shingles may be on the patient.

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