What causes shingles?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful skin condition that results from a reactivation of an infection with the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox. The virus is never fully cleared from the body after a bout with chickenpox, and it can reactivate to cause the nerve and skin inflammation characteristic of shingles often decades after the chickenpox.
What are medications for shingles?
Antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir) can reduce the severity and duration of the rash if started within 72 hours of the development of the skin rash, and pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve), and even narcotic pain-control medications may be useful in symptom control. In addition to medications, many people find that home care remedies can also provide relief for the pain of shingles.
What are common home remedies for shingles?
Keeping the inflamed skin clean is essential, so wash the affected area with cool water and mild soap. Taking a bath or shower is fine. The blisters of shingles will crust over and fall off on their own, and it's important to avoid picking at the blisters to prevent the development of a secondary skin infection at the inflamed site. Cool compresses applied to the painful area after washing may be helpful. In the first few days of an attack, you can apply ice packs for 10 minutes at a time several times throughout the day.
You can also use cornstarch or baking soda applied directly to the areas of blistering to keep them dry and promote faster healing. Another product that may help keep the blisters dry and prevent oozing is aluminum acetate solution (Burow's or Domeboro solution), which is available at pharmacies. Keep the blisters exposed to air and uncovered by clothing as much as possible.
While none of these home treatments will cure shingles or even decrease the length of the attack, many sufferers find that home care measures can make the painful condition more tolerable.