Herpes zoster virus, the pathogen responsible for chickenpox, can lie dormant in the body for several months or years after producing initial symptoms. It can eventually reappear as shingles, a burning, painful rash that usually begins on the back and spreads across the torso. Shingles does not always need to be treated, and most outbreaks go away on their own within a few weeks. Doctors usually recommend herpes zoster treatment, however, to ease symptoms and shorten healing time. The most common herpes zoster treatment is a combination of prescription antiviral drugs, topical analgesics, and soothing home remedies.
A person who experiences a spreading rash that burns, itches, and turns red should visit a doctor to receive an accurate diagnosis. After confirming the presence of herpes zoster, the physician can explain the different treatment methods available. In most cases, patients are given oral antivirals to combat the virus in the bloodstream. The same drugs that are effective against other herpes strains can be used as herpes zoster treatment, including valacyclovir, famciclovir, and acyclovir.
If a patient has significant or debilitating pain, he or she may also need to take corticosteroids. A doctor may prescribe prednisone or another oral steroid or provide a steroid injection in his or her office. Patients who are given oral medications are usually instructed to take them for one to two weeks along with their antivirals.
In addition to taking prescription medications, home remedies can be an effective form of herpes zoster treatment. Skin rashes tend to form blisters after about 72 hours that can be very itchy and sensitive. Taking a cool bath or wiping the blisters with a moist, cool washcloth usually provides temporary relief. Calamine lotions and over-the-counter analgesics can also ease uncomfortable burning and itching. Oral antihistamines may helps as well, but a person who is already taking antivirals and corticosteroids should first ask his or her doctor if it is safe to take additional medications.
Most people start feeling better within one to two weeks of starting herpes zoster treatment. Blisters tend to dry out and crust over, and pain and itching gradually subside. If a rash worsens or persists for more than two weeks, an individual should revisit his or her doctor for another evaluation.
It may be possible to prevent a herpes zoster outbreak in the first place. An adult vaccine for shingles is available in most developed countries for people over the age of 60. An individual who has had chickenpox at some point in his or her life can speak with a doctor about getting vaccinated.