The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.
There are no medications available to cure
shingles. Medications can shorten the duration of the illness, reduce the risk of developing complications, and relieve discomforts.
If you develop postherpetic neuralgia with severe pain, your doctor may prescribe medications that are used for chronic pain conditions.
Common names include: AcyclovirValacyclovirFamciclovir
Antiviral medications will not cure shingles, but they can shorten the duration of the illness. They may also reduce pain and discomfort. While more evidence is needed, antiviral medications might help prevent complications of shingles, such as post-herpetic neuralgia.
Side effects may include: NauseaVomitingLightheadednessAbdominal painRashHeadacheTremor
Common names include: PrednisonePrednisolone
Treatment with corticosteroids may reduce short-term discomfort.
Side effects may include:
high blood pressureWorsening of diabetesRestlessness and irritabilityInsomnia
Acetaminophen can help relieve some of the aches and pains associated with shingles.
Ibuprofen can also help relieve some of the aches and pains associated with shingles. To decrease your chance of having an upset stomach, take ibuprofen with food.
Common brand name: Benadryl
Diphenhydramine can help decrease the itching associated with the rash of shingles.
Side effects may include: Dry mouthDrowsiness—Do not take medication before driving or operating heavy equipment.Increased effects of alcohol or other sedatives
Common brand name: Caladryl
Caladryl lotion can help soothe the itching associated with the rash of shingles. Apply lotion to the rash several times each day.
Common brand names include: PolysporinNeosporin
Antibiotic ointments may be recommended if your rash has become infected. Talk to your doctor about whether it is necessary to apply antibiotic ointment to open areas of you rash. It is usually applied several times each day.
Common brand name: Zostrix
Capsaicin cream is used on the skin to relieve the itching, burning, and discomfort of shingles. Do not apply capsaicin cream until your rash has crusted over.
Side effects may include burning, stinging, or warm sensation when first applied to the skin.
If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines: Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule. Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.Plan ahead for refills if you need them.Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.
Contact your doctor if you: Have any questions about your medicationHave any side effectsFeel that the medication is not working
Shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html. Updated January 10, 2011. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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