What can I do at home to ease pain of shingles?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What can I do at home to ease the pain of shingles?

Expert Answer

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging.net. She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

The best way to take care of shingles at home is to be vigilant about taking the medications ordered by a doctor, and to let the doctor know if you frequently feel moderate or strong pain.

The pain from shingles can be severe, so often prescription-strength pain medicines are needed. Unfortunately, there's no single medication that reliably relieves shingles pain. You need to let your doctor know if you're feeling uncontrolled pain, work with him to figure out what medications work best for you, and monitor possible side-effects, such as confusion or constipation.

Shingles medications are likely to include one or more of the following:

  • Antivirals (such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir)
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Prescription skin creams that contain pain relievers
  • Prescription pain relief, such as lidocaine patches, certain antidepressants that also have an effect on nerve pain, and/or opiate medications (such as Vicodin, Percocet, or oxycodone)
  • Steroid medications for those who have severe pain

In addition, these may help:

  • Cool compresses on the painful site
  • Daily bathing to prevent bacterial infection
  • Keeping fingernails short to reduce scratching of irritating blisters

You may also need over-the-counter or prescription-strength laxatives to prevent constipation if you're taking opiate medications for pain.