Shingles, a condition caused by the herpes zoster virus, is a skin inflammation that causes painful pus-filled bumps that can appear as a band on one location of the body. A shingles rash can cause extreme pain and make even the smallest task uncomfortable. To manage the pain and get immediate relief, a number of shingles treatments can be used, including antiviral medications and corticosteroids.
The virus that causes chickenpox is also responsible for shingles. Once exposed to chickenpox, the virus never leaves the body, instead remaining dormant in the nerve cells. For most individuals, the immune system is strong enough to keep the virus contained; however, age, stress, surgery, or a suppressed immune system may allow the virus to become active.
Antiviral medications are likely to be prescribed for those with compromised immune systems in order to speed up the recovery process. When taken within a few days of a shingles rash, antivirals can help manage the pain and prevent an outbreak from becoming more severe. To treat shingles, these drugs must be taken orally or intravenously.
Over-the-counter pain medications or prescription narcotics may be recommended to relive the stinging pain associated with shingles. Numbing agents and cold compresses can also help. When applied directly to the rash, these treatments can help to reduce the swelling and irritation. To soothe the itch, calamine lotion can also be used.
For severe pain management and treatment of a shingles rash involving the eyes or face, corticosteroid injections can be added to the treatment regimen. Corticosteroids can cause a number of serious side effects, including vision problems, mood changes, and meningitis. Due to the dangers associated with these side effects and the drug's ability to further compromise the immune system, this medication is not often used to treat a shingles rash in older adults.
Perhaps the most important part of treating of a shingles rash is keeping the area from becoming infected. If bacteria gets into the area, further inflammation and pain can occur. Keep the area clean by washing it with soap and water.
Antibacterial creams can be applied directly to the area to prevent bacterial infections. Thoroughly wash the hands before and after touching the rash and trim the nails to help prevent bacteria from getting caught under long fingernails and introduced to the area. Avoid scratching the rash, disinfect all surfaces after touching them, and launder bedding and clothing exposed to the virus.
People over age 60 can also make use of the shingles vaccine as a preventative treatment. Individuals who receive the vaccine are less likely to develop shingles. For those that do, the severity and duration of the outbreak is usually shorter.