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Pain Management
Skin Health

What You Can Do to Treat Shingles

Shingles is a skin disease that causes pain, burning, itching, and a rash that erupts into blisters.  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, in their lifetime. The CDC says there are an estimated 1 million cases every year in the U.S. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox can develop shingles, and though half of all cases happen in people 60 years or older, children can get shingles as well.

The shingles rash forms blisters that usually scab over in seven to ten days. Usually, it clears up in two to four weeks. The rash, the CDC says, is often preceded by pain, itching or tingling in the area where the rash will appear.

According to the SeniorHealth division of the National Institutes of Health, if you suspect you have shingles, you should see a doctor within 72 hours. Antiviral medicines are effective but must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears.

In the early stage of shingles, the SeniorHealth experts say, a healthcare provider will usually prescribe antiviral pills such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famcyclovir. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe drugs to ease pain. Wet compresses can help with some of the itching.  Patients with long-term pain may also be treated with numbing patches, tricyclic antidepressants, and gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication.

But, the SeniorHealth experts caution, while these treatments can reduce the symptoms of shingles, and weaken the virus and its effects, they are not a cure. The condition tends to run its course.

In the meantime, these tips from the SeniorHealth experts might help you feel better:

Get plenty of rest and eat well-balanced meals.

Try simple exercises like stretching or walking. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Apply a cool washcloth to your blisters to ease the pain and help dry the blisters.

Do things that take your mind off your pain. For example, watch TV, read, talk with friends, listen to relaxing music, or work on a hobby you like.

Avoid stress. It can make the pain worse.

Wear loose-fitting, natural-fiber clothing.

Ask your doctor about taking an oatmeal bath or using calamine lotion. These treatments may work.

For more information on dozens of health issues, visit the SeniorHealth website; click here.

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