There are certain things you need to know about shingles treatment. Shingles (acute herpes zoster) is a very painful skin rash, which is most common in adults, and people who have weak immune systems such as seniors and infants. If you contracted chickenpox as a child you should know that the virus lies dormant and can flare up in the form of shingles later on in life. Other diseases or even stress can trigger the onset of shingles; anytime your immune system is weakened. Once the virus is activated, it invades your nerve endings causing severe pain.
There is presently no cure for shingles. Shingles is treated using pain medication to lessen the symptoms of the rash as well as antiviral medications, which will help the rash heal faster and decrease its duration.
Initial Shingles Treatment
The shingles treatment is most effective within three days of the rash appearing. You can keep yourself comfortable by wearing loose fitting clothing and keeping the rash as clean and dry as possible. Apply soothing lotions and cool, wet compresses over the rash to temporarily relieve pain. If your doctor outlines a medication regimen for you, ensure that you follow their directions carefully for best results.
• OTC (over the counter) pain medication. These are used to help reduce pain and inflammation and can include Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen. Paracetamol is also available over the counter and is a well-known painkiller. Always ensure that you follow the recommended dosages for OTC medications.
• Topical antibiotics to assist with both pain and itching. Common antibiotics used include Neomycin and Bacitracin. Let your medical practitioner know if you are currently taking any medications as they may be contraindicated and a replacement can be offered.
• Antiviral medications can be administered to help with pain relief including but not limited to valacyclovir, famciclovir, or acyclovir.
• Corticosteroids can be prescribed alongside the antiviral antibiotic to assist in treating the rash.
• Calamine Lotion is known for its soothing properties and can be used on the rash to reduce its intensity.
Long-Term Shingles Treatment
Generally patients will see an improvement with the aforementioned shingles treatments within a few weeks. In the event that the rash does not heal in that time, your doctor may opt to proceed with more aggressive shingles treatment options to prevent complications and long-term health problems. These treatments may include:
• Benzocaine: a topical anesthetic available without a prescription. Your doctor may decide to prescribe Lidoderm, which is a patch and available only with a prescription.
• Gabapentin, which is an anticonvulsant medication used also as a pain reliever. This potent drug is normally prescribed to patients who suffer from fibromyalgia but is also used in the shingles treatment.
• Antidepressants are used to treat depression but studies have shown that tricyclic antidepressants have a positive effect on patients diagnosed with shingles, often helping to reduce pain. There are a number of side effects to tricyclic antidepressants including constipation, blurred vision and weight gain. Speak to your doctor to see if this shingles treatment option is right for you.
• For severe pain, stronger painkillers, called opioids, may be prescribed to you. Codeine is most commonly used with morphine being used only in extreme cases.
Complications: When Treatment Fails
In the absence of improvement and in the event that the pain from shingles persists, you may be diagnosed with Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN). The pain from PHN can last years after the rash dissipates although most cases of PHN terminate within a year. The same shingles treatments are used in the treatment of PHN as well with pain relief being the primary objective.
Identified by the presence of more than twenty lesions on the skin, disseminated zoster can affect the brain and the liver. If the condition does progress to the brain and liver the situation can complicate further, with the patient developing hepatitis and encephalitis.
If the shingles treatment fails, it can cause complications involving the patient’s eyes, nose, face and brain. Treatment will be contingent upon the diagnosis of your doctor.
Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus
When the rash from shingles spreads across your forehead, cheek, and nose and around only one of your eyes, you could be diagnosed with herpes zoster ophthalmicus. This condition can render a patient blind and you should seek medical attention immediately. The treatments for this condition can include antiviral medication, cool compresses and rest.