Diagnosis

Health care providers usually diagnose shingles based on the history of pain on one side of your body, along with the telltale rash and blisters. Your health care provider may also take a tissue sample or culture of the blisters to send to the lab.

Treatment

There's no cure for shingles. Early treatment with prescription antiviral drugs may speed healing and lower your risk of complications. These drugs include:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Famciclovir
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)

Shingles can cause severe pain, so your health care provider also may prescribe:

  • Capsaicin topical patch (Qutenza)
  • Anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise, Horizant)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
  • Numbing agents, such as lidocaine, in the form of a cream, gel, spray or skin patch
  • An injection including corticosteroids and local anesthetics

Talk with your health care provider or pharmacist about benefits and potential side effects of any drugs you're prescribed.

Shingles generally lasts between 2 and 6 weeks. Most people get shingles only once. But it's possible to get it two or more times.

More Information

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Lifestyle and home remedies

Taking a cool bath or using cool, wet compresses on your blisters may help relieve the itching and pain. And, if possible, try to lower the amount of stress in your life.

Preparing for your appointment

You may start by seeing your primary care health care provider.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting before having a specific test. Make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • Key personal information, including major stresses, recent life changes and family medical history
  • All medications, vitamins or supplements you take, including the doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.

For shingles, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What's likely causing my symptoms?
  • Other than the most likely cause, what are other possible causes for my symptoms?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
  • What's the best course of action?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there restrictions I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?

Don't hesitate to ask other questions.

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider is likely to ask you several questions, such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
  • Do you know if you've ever had chickenpox?

What you can do in the meantime

Avoid doing anything that seems to worsen your symptoms.

Aug. 20, 2022
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  5. Shingles (herpes zoster): Clinical overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/hcp/clinical-overview.html. Accessed June 25, 2022.
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