What Meds Treat and Prevent Shingles?

The virus that causes chickenpox is also what causes shingles. It’s called varicella zoster. It can lie quietly in your nerves for decades after causing chickenpox but suddenly wake up and become active.

The main symptom of shingles is a painful rash that comes up on one side of your body or face. See your doctor as soon as you can if you think you might have this condition.

Your doctor may want to put you on medications to control your infection and speed up healing, cut inflammation, and ease your pain. They include:

Antiviral Medications

These medicines may slow down the progress of the shingles rash, especially if you take them within the first 72 hours of having symptoms.

They can also lower your chance of having complications. Your doctor may prescribe:

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

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about side effects to watch for if you’re put on one of these drugs.


Shingles causes inflammation and pain. Your doctor can suggest over-the-counter medicines to relieve milder discomfort. They include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

These may also help you stave off postherpetic neuralgia, which is a burning pain that some people get after the rash and blisters of shingles go away.

Other Prescriptions

If you have severe pain after the rash clears or an infection during your shingles outbreak, your doctor might prescribe:

Capsaicin cream: Be careful not to get it in your eyes.

A numbing medicine: You might get lidocaine (Lidoderm, Xylocaine) for pain. It can come in a variety of forms, such as creams, lotions, patches, powders, and sprays, among others.

Antibiotics: You might need these medicines if bacteria infect your skin and rashes. But if bacteria aren’t involved, then antibiotics won’t help.

Tricyclic antidepressants: There are many of these medications that might help ease the pain that lingers after your skin has healed, such as amitriptyline, desipramine (Norpramin), and nortriptyline (Pamelor). They may also help you with depression, if you have that in addition to shingles. Your doctor can tell you what the risks and benefits are.

Home Care

There aren’t home remedies for shingles. But there are things you can do to help your skin heal.

Keep the affected area clean, dry, and exposed to air as much as possible.

The itching can be maddening at times, but try not to scratch or burst the blisters.

Ask your doctor about creams and other things you can try to give yourself some relief.

Some people find that acupuncture and other complementary treatments help with the pain that can linger after shingles. Let your doctor know first if you want to try these.

Can I Prevent Shingles?

There are two shingles vaccines. Shingrix (RZV) is recommended over the older vaccine, Zostavax, because it is more than 90% effective in preventing a shingles outbreak.

Who should get it: The CDC recommends that you get this vaccine if you’re a healthy adult ages 50 or older, whether or not you remember having had chickenpox, because most people have been exposed to the virus. If you have had the Zostavax vaccine, you can also have Shingrix. The FDA has also approved it for anyone over the age of 18 who may have problems with their immune system because of illness or treatment.

How many shots do you need? You would need two shots for Shingrix. One initially, with a follow up in 2 to 6 months.

What it does: Shingrix reduces your chance of getting shingles by more than 90%. Even if you still get shingles, the vaccine may help it be less painful.

I never had chickenpox. Do I still need the shingles vaccine? Yes, you do. Shingrix is recommended for everyone age 50 and older, whether or not you remember having had chickenpox, as well as for those 18 and older who are immunodeficient or immunosuppressed..

If I’ve had shingles, can I still get the vaccine? Yes. It may help prevent you having another bout of shingles later on. If you have shingles right now, you should wait until the rash is gone before you get vaccinated.

What are the side effects? The most common side effects with Shingrix include pain and swelling where you got the shot, muscle pain, tiredness, headache, chills, fever, and stomach troubles. With any vaccine there is a chance of a severe allergic reaction. Also since Zostavax is a live virus vaccine, it is also possible to get a small chickenpox-like rash around the spot where you got the shot.

Who Shouldn’t Get the Shingles Vaccine?

Don’t get the Shingrix vaccine if:

  • You’re allergic to any of the ingredients.
  • You’re pregnant or nursing.
  • You have tested negative for immunity to the chickenpox virus. Ask your doctor about the chickenpox vaccine instead.
  • You have shingles now.


  1. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/understanding-shingles-treatment
  2. National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke: “Shingles. Seek Early Treatment."
  3. Mayo Clinic Health Letter, June 2002.
  4. Oxman M. New England Journal of Medicine, 2005.
  5. Douglas M. Drug Safety, 2004.
  6. WebMD Health News: “Shingles Vaccine to Be Routine at 60."
  7. FDA: “FDA Licenses New Vaccine to Reduce Older Americans’ Risk of Shingles."
  8. Vaccines.Gov: “Shingles (Herpes Zoster).”
  9. CDC: “What Everyone Should Know About Shingles Vaccine.”

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