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Treatment Options for Shingles

In case you missed it, in a previous blog we touched on the topic of shingles. In that blog, we covered the symptoms and how a person can develop this condition.

Now, we’re focusing on the possible treatment options. Although there is no cure for shingles, treatment can help shorten the length of the illness and prevent further complications.

The most common treatment options for shingles include:

  • Antiviral medications that work to reduce the duration and pain of shingles
  • Pain medications and topical creams. These creams are applied right to the skin to inhibit the infection of the blisters and reduce pain.
  • Over-the-counter drugs (OTC) medications. These can be used to reduce pain while combating the effects of fending off shingles. Always be sure to read the instructions on the label and consult your primary care physician prior to taking any medication.

Once a person is diagnosed with shingles, a doctor will likely begin treatment with antiviral medications. If medication is started within the first three days of noticing a shingles rash, the chances of having later complications decreases considerably.

In some cases, shingles can become a severe condition where pain persists for more than a month. In these instances, your doctor may diagnose postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), the most common complication associated with shingles. In fact, PHN affects 10 to 15 out of 100 people who have had shingles. PHN is characterized by pain that persists for months or years.

If you’re suffering from PHN, there are treatment options available to lessen the pain. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Anticonvulsants – There are certain anti-seizure medications that can be used to decrease the pain of PHN. Anticonvulsants stabilize any abnormal electrical activity in the nervous system that’s caused by injured nerves.
  • Capsaicin skin patches – These patches contain a high concentration of the extract that’s found in chili peppers (capsaicin). The patch is applied by a trained professional after a numbing agent is used on the affected area. This process takes about two hours. In some cases, a single treatment has proven to be effective in lessening the pain.
  • Opioid painkillers – There are instances when a person will need prescription-strength painkillers that contain tramadol, oxycodone or morphine to reduce pain levels.

Given that there are nearly one million cases of shingles reported each year in the United States, and half of those cases occur in people 60 years and older, it’s a good idea for your elderly loved one to consider getting a shingles vaccine to lessen his or her chances of contracting this condition.

If you’d like to learn more about the treatment options and ways to prevent shingles, contact your primary care physician.

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St. Barnabas Health System
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