My Family Doctor Blog

Google search

Free Health Newsletter

free-health-newsletterThank you for visiting! You can sign up for our free monthly newsletter here. You'll get the latest articles, with tips and insights from doctors, registered dietitians and more.

We never spam or share your email address.

Click here to read previous newsletters.

How to Get Rid of Shingles (and Can You Spread It?)

shingles-informationby Bruce Kaler, M.D.

Q. How do you get rid of shingles?

A. Shingles is the chickenpox virus that's been hanging around and decided to rear its ugly head. It usually goes away on its own, but getting treatment as early as possible is best to help prevent complications.

How Shingles Starts

After chickenpox has lain dormant for decades in one of your nerve roots, something can wake it up. We think the trigger is often some form of stress that lowers your resistance. This drives the immune system below a certain threshold and allows the virus to turn on.

newsletter-graphicThe rash can be preceded by several days of a burning pain that varies in intensity but has a reputation of being quite uncomfortable. Since the virus is trapped in a nerve, the rash appears only in the swath of skin that nerve supplies. It won't even cross over to the other side of your body because nerves start in your backbone.

Get articles like this from the experts every month in our free My Family Doctor newsletter.

How to Get Rid of Shingles

Shingles is a herpes virus. It's different than the viruses that cause cold sores and sexually transmitted blisters, but like them, it isn't curable. Shingles will, however, go back into hibernation.

If you're otherwise healthy, you'll probably fight it off like any other virus. Nonetheless, it's best to get treatment. The average shingles outbreak can last several weeks and vary in intensity from one person to the next. Some medicines can reduce the intensity if taken early and can help prevent more misery down the road.

Here are some options:

  • Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) help relieve the pain and inflammation and shorten the outbreak's duration if you start them within 48 to 72 hours of when the rash begins. But most importantly, when taken early enough, these drugs can also help prevent postherpetic neuralgia, a troublesome condition in which the pain persists for months to years after the rash has subsided.
  • Before the antiviral drugs were available, high doses of ibuprofen were—and still can be—helpful in reducing the pain's intensity. Consult your health-care provider before treating yourself. High doses can be dangerous, even life-threatening. Make sure your doctor knows if you have kidney impairment, congestive heart failure or bleeding problems.
  • In severe cases, a steroid may provide some relief.

Over-the-counter topical products like creams are of little use for this frustrating condition.

Consult your health-care provider as soon as you see a suspicious rash to help minimize the pain and frustration. Recurrences can happen, but keeping a healthy lifestyle and managing stress are your best bets for keeping shingles from coming back.

Can You Spread Shingles?

People can't catch shingles from shingles, but they can catch chickenpox from it. Those who have never had chickenpox can get it through direct contact with shingles blisters or their fluid. Those who have had chickenpox or been vaccinated, though, should be immune.

is a family doctor and director of the U.S. Healthworks clinic in Puyallup, Wash. He wrote The Owner's Manual for Allergy Relief and the medical mystery Turnabout.

Photo by Fisle, via Wikimedia Commons.

You May Also Be Interested In:

Last updated and/or approved: September 2011.
Original article appeared in May/June 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
Comments (4)add comment
Can shingles affect pregnant people
written by Graham withers , January 27, 2017

Can shingles affect somebody who is pregnant and should they say to their midwife about a family member suffering from shingles.
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0

written by Aundrea , July 28, 2015

I went to my grandmothers house for eight days. She had shingles. I now have shingles. How can this be if it not contagious.
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +1

written by rayya , March 06, 2014

I found that washing it and putting toothpaste on it dries it up faster and goes away in about 1 week
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +4

written by Yosef farca , July 17, 2013

put anti perspent deodorant on the infected area as well as garlic and rub the inside of the banana of the infected area u cud also use ice pack do numb the itching pain.shingles is caused by stress and a low immune wen u have shingles u shud try to relax and hydrate urself
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: -3

Write comment
smaller | bigger

© My Family Doctor 2018.
Magazine Publishing Website Design and Digital Magazine Media Solutions for Publishers