While there isn't a cure for shingles, also known as the herpes zoster virus, there are treatments available that can help minimize the length of the disease and help prevent further complications. These remedies may also help relieve the pain and itching associated with the disorder, which can recur even after being dormant for many years. Shingles is typically found in older adults, although those with weaker immune systems can get infected at any age. A vaccine is available to help reduce the risk and pain associated with the disease, although it is not a cure for shingles.
Shingles is a painful skin disorder often characterized by a line of blisters and a rash appearing on one side of the upper body or face. The Varicella Zoster virus, also known for causing chickenpox, causes shingles. However, only those who have had chickenpox can get shingles. Symptoms, which can also include an upset stomach, fever, headache and chills, can last between two and four weeks. While treatments can help remedy the rash and blisters, the pain associated with shingles often can last for many years. Shingles is not a fully contagious disease; typically only those with uncovered, open blisters can transmit it to others. Once the blisters have crusted over, it normally is no longer contagious.
Treatments to help alleviate the symptoms of shingles may include antiviral or antidepressant medications, topical anesthetics and opioids, such as morphine or codeine. A vaccine called Zostavax® may help strengthen the immune system to help reduce the risk of shingles. While these treatments are not a cure for shingles, they can offer some relief for those inflicted with this disease.
When a patient is diagnosed, a physician will typically prescribe an antiviral medication, which commonly reduces the pain and duration of shingles. If this is done within the first 48 hours of the initial appearance of pain or itching, there may be a smaller chance of recurrence or other complications. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, are also commonly prescribed for the pain. A topical antibiotic is usually recommended to prevent the spread of infection on the skin as well.
Long-term therapy for shingles pain, known as postherpetic neuralgia, that lasts for more than a month often includes applying a topical analgesic to numb the infected area. Patients may also receive an anticonvulsant drug to help control the neuropathic pain. In severe cases, codeine or another strong pain reliever may be given. None of these medications are a cure for shingles, but they may provide relief.
A vaccine to reduce the risk of acquiring shingles or to help prevent recurrences is recommended for adults 60 and older who have had chickenpox. Those with weakened immune systems, such as from cancer or AIDS, are commonly urged to receive the vaccine. A physician can provide additional information about risks associated with the vaccine. While it is not a cure for shingles, studies have proven it fairly effective in preventing it.