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What Causes Shingles And How Can I Treat It?

Mrs. Ibha Sen (55-years-old) works in a travel company in Kolkata. Over the past few days, Mrs. Sen noticed some painful rashes on one side (face, chest, ears, etc.) of her body. The rashes are filled up with blisters that produce a burning sensation. She consulted a doctor without wasting any time as she had chickenpox a few months ago. The doctor examined her thoroughly and confirmed that she is having shingles. The doctor also prescribed a line of treatment for shingles. After taking medications, now Mrs. Sen’s symptoms and conditions are improving.

What Are Shingles?

Shingles are viral infections that are caused by the virus called varicella-zoster. The same varicella-zoster virus is responsible for chickenpox. Once your chickenpox gets over, this virus remains inactive in the patient’s nervous system for years, and then suddenly; it gets reactivated as shingles.


Shingles are also called herpes zoster. Shingles usually appear as a set of blisters on one side of the body, especially on the torso, neck, or face.

Shingles Symptoms

The rashes of shingles may not appear red. Depending on your skin color, the rashes can be dark pink, dark brown, or purplish. Symptoms of shingles are:

  • Rashes that appear only on one side of the body, such as on the chest, abdomen, back, or face
  • Rashes on your face and ears
  • Itchiness
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break easily
  • Pain and burning sensation


Some other symptoms could be:


Rare complications of shingles are:

  • Pain or rash on the eye. If you don’t treat your shingles, then this can lead to permanent eye damage.
  • Intense ear pain, particularly in one ear
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of taste can be the symptom of Ramsay Hunt syndrome and also demand immediate medical treatment and care
  • Bacterial infection


Stages Of Shingles

Most shingles usually last up to 3-5 weeks. Once the varicella-zoster virus reactivates, your skin may experience some changes, including:

  • Tingle
  • Burn
  • Feel numb
  • Itch


Shingles are commonly found on one side of your body including the waist, back, or chest.

Within 5 days, you will experience red rashes in some particular area. Small groups of blisters may appear after a few days in the same area. You will also experience flu-like symptoms such as a fever, headache, or fatigue.

The blisters will be dried up within 10 days and form scabs. After a couple of weeks, the scabs will be cleared. Some people may experience pain after the scabs get cleared. This is called postherpetic neuralgia.

Shingles Causes

  • If you had chickenpox, you may develop shingles once the virus reactivates within your body
  • A weakened immune system
  • Stress
  • Aging (people above 60 years are more prone to develop shingles)
  • Ongoing cancer treatment
  • Surgery


Shingles Medications

Once you are diagnosed with shingles, your doctor will recommend some medications to ease your pain and speed up the healing process. Following are some shingles medications prescribed by doctors:

  • Antiviral Medications

These medicines will slow down the development of rashes if you take them within the first 72 hours of having symptoms. They will also minimize the other complications of shingles. Your doctor may prescribe medications like:

Antiviral medications are also safe in pregnancy, but still, consult a doctor before taking these medicines in your pregnancy.

  • Painkillers

Shingles give you pain and inflammation. So, your doctor will recommend some OTC medications to relieve your pain. These medications are:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Acetaminophen

These medications are also useful in treating the burning pain of postherpetic neuralgia.

Other Medications

If you have severe rashes during your shingles outbreak, your doctor will prescribe some medications including:

  • Capsaicin Cream: Be careful while using the cream as it shouldn’t enter your eyes.
  • A Numbing Medicine: Your doctor may prescribe lidocaine (Lidoderm, Xylocaine) for pain. This medication is available in a variety of forms, such as creams, lotions, patches, powders, and sprays
  • Antibiotics: You will need these medicines if there are bacterial infections on your skin and rashes. If there is no bacterial infection, then antibiotics are not effective as a treatment for shingles.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: These medications will alleviate the pain that lingers after your skin has healed. Commonly used medications are amitriptyline, desipramine (Norpramin), and nortriptyline (Pamelor). These medications are also useful in treating your depression if you have that in addition to shingles.

Alternative Treatments

Several studies have claimed that some alternative treatments like acupuncture and supplements will give relief from the symptoms of shingles.

1. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

By using small electrical pulses, this therapy relieves your pain. A TENS unit comes up with tiny patches called electrodes. You need to put it over the painful area and turn the unit on and off as your pain arises and goes. 

2. Traditional Chinese Medicine

This treatment includes acupuncture where thin needles are inserted into your skin at specific points. Moxibustion and cupping are two heat therapies that draw out toxins. You may go for both treatments in combination.

3. Creams and Other Skin Treatments

A mixture of liquid dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and idoxuridine will lessen swelling and the number of blisters on your rash. Chlorophyll can be used directly on the rash as a cream or saline solution. 

4. Supplements

The markets are flooded with herbs, pills, and oils that will relieve shingles. Papain (a protein found in papayas) in capsules is also useful in treating shingles. Manuka and clover honey can be applied directly to your skin.

Shingles Vaccine

There are two types of shingles vaccines available in the market. 

  • Zostavax: This shingles vaccine was approved by FDA in the year 2006. It reduces the risk of shingles by over 50%.
  • Shingrix (RZV): This is the most effective vaccine than the Zostavax and it is more than 90% effective in preventing a shingles outbreak.

Who Should Get It?

All healthy adults above 50 or older are eligible for this vaccine (irrespective of having had chickenpox). If you have taken the Zostavax vaccine, then you can also have Shingrix.

How Many Shots Do You Need?

You need two shots for Shingrix: One at first, with a follow-up in 2 to 6 months.

What Does It Do?

This vaccine lessens your chances of getting shingles by more than 90%.

If You Had Shingles, Can You Still Get the Vaccine

Yes, you should go for the shot as it will prevent you from having another set of shingles later.

The Bottom Line

Shingles are painful and will give you a burning sensation. Consult a doctor and follow a proper treatment method to overcome pain and other symptoms. If left untreated, shingles will lead to several complications. 

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