Shingles is usually diagnosed based on the history of pain on one side of your body, along with the telltale rash and blisters. Your doctor may also take a tissue scraping or culture of the blisters for examination in the laboratory.
There's no cure for shingles, but prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs can speed healing and reduce your risk of complications. These medications include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax)
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
Shingles can cause severe pain, so your doctor also may prescribe:
- Capsaicin topical patch (Qutenza)
- Anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
- Numbing agents, such as lidocaine, delivered via a cream, gel, spray or skin patch
- Medications that contain narcotics, such as codeine
- An injection including corticosteroids and local anesthetics
Shingles generally lasts between two and six weeks. Most people get shingles only once, but it is possible to get it two or more times.
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 reduce the amount of stress in your life.
Preparing for your appointment
Some people have such mild symptoms of shingles that they don't seek medical treatment. At the other extreme, severe symptoms may result in a visit to the emergency room.
What you can do
You may want to write a list that includes:
- A detailed description of your symptoms
- Information about your medical problems, past and present
- Information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings
- All the medications, vitamins and dietary supplements you take
Preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your limited time with your doctor. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For shingles, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- How long will I have symptoms?
- What caused me to develop shingles? Can I get it again?
- What treatment do you recommend? How quickly will I start to feel better?
- What if my symptoms don't improve?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask any additional questions that occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor will examine your rash and may ask some of the following questions:
- When did your symptoms begin?
- Does anything make them better or worse?
- Do you know if you've ever had chickenpox?