While there’s no cure for shingles, getting immediate treatment can help speed the healing process and reduce your risk of complications.
Antiviral drugs, such as Valtrex (valacyclovir), can shorten the duration and severity of shingles, but they’re most effective if you start them as quickly as possible after the rash emerges, or even before it erupts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).right up arrow
Prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication may also help relieve pain, along with home remedies like oatmeal baths, wet compresses, and calamine lotion.
Per the CDC, to help diminish the length and severity of shingles, your physician may prescribe an antiviral drug, such as the following: right up arrow
Ideally, you should take antiviral medication as soon as the rash appears (if not sooner). Taking these drugs within 72 hours of the eruption of the rash will help prevent postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), according to Mayo Clinic.right up arrow PHN is a condition in which nerve fibers, inflamed or damaged by shingles, continue to send pain signals to your brain months or even years after the blisters have gone away.
Shingles can cause severe pain. Per Mayo Clinic, in addition to antivirals, your doctor may prescribe the following treatments for pain:right up arrow
Capsaicin topical patch (Qutenza)
Antiepileptic drugs, such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
Numbing agents, such as lidocaine
Narcotics, such as codeine
An injection including corticosteroids and local anesthetics
If postherpetic neuralgia develops, similar medications are used to treat PHN pain.
While it may seem strange for your doctor to prescribe drugs for shingles that are commonly used to treat depression and prevent seizures, shingles is at root a nerve disorder, and these drugs work in different ways to calm overactive nerves.
“Antiepileptics in general are thought to reduce the ability of the neurons to fire at high frequency,” says Sangeetha Kodoth, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy Specialists of Knoxville in Tennessee.
It’s believed that tricyclic antidepressants — an older class of antidepressants — work by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, which then modify pain response.
Per the Cleveland Clinic, you can also take the following OTC pain medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat mild pain caused by shingles:right up arrow
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
Antibacterial agents may also be prescribed if a bacterial infection occurs with the shingles rash.
Before taking any medication for shingles, be sure to talk to your doctor about possible side effects.