Medications for Shingles

Here are the basics about each of the medicines below. Only common problems with them are listed.

No medicine can cure shingles. One or more medicines may be given to:

  • Shorten how long a person is sick
  • Lower the risk of problems
  • Ease pain

Some people get postherpetic neuralgia with pain. If so, the doctor may give pain medicines.

Prescription Medications

Antiviral medicine

  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir

Corticosteroids

  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

Other Medicines for Pain

  • Opioids
    • Oxycodone
    • Tramadol
  • Anticonvulsants
    • Gabapentin
    • Pregabalin
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants
  • Local Anesthetics

Over the Counter Medications

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antipruritics
    • Diphenhydramine
    • Caladryl
  • Antibiotic ointment:
    • Polysporin
    • Neosporin
  • Capsaicin cream:
    • Zostrix

Prescription Medications

Antiviral Medicines

Common names are:

  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir

These medicines can shorten how long you are sick. They may also ease pain. They may also help avoid problems, such as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Problems may be:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Belly pain
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Shaking

Corticosteroids

Common names are:

  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

These medicines may possibly ease short term pain. However, there is not enough evidence.

Some problems are:

Other Medicines for Pain

These medicines may be used to ease moderate to severe pain:

Opioids

Common names are:

  • Oxycodone
  • Tramadol

Some problems may be:

  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation

Anticonvulsants

Common names are:

  • Gabapentin
  • Pregabalin

Some problems may be:

  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Common names are:

  • Nortriptyline
  • Amitriptyline

Some problems may be:

  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision

Local Anesthetic

Lidocaine patch applied to skin.

Some problems may be:

  • Discomfort or burning
  • Redness or swelling of the skin

Over the Counter Medications

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen can help ease aches and pains.

Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen can also help ease aches and pains. To lower the risk of an upset stomach, take ibuprofen with food.

Anti-itch Medications

Diphenhydramine

Common brand name: Benadryl

Diphenhydramine can help ease itching from the rash.

Problems may be:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sleepiness
  • Increased effects of alcohol or other sedatives
Caladryl Lotion

Caladryl lotion can help soothe the itching from the rash.

Antibiotic Ointment

Antibiotic ointments may help if the rash has become infected.

Capsaicin Cream

Capsaicin cream is used on the skin to ease itching, burning, and pain. It is only used when the rash has crusted over.

Some problems may be burning, stinging, or a warm feeling on the skin.

References:

Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/herpes-zoster. Accessed November 15, 2021.
Saguil A, Kane S, et al. Herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia: prevention and management. Am Fam Physician. 2017;96(10):656-663.
Shingles information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Shingles-Information-Page. Accessed November 15, 2021.
Shingles overview. The American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/shingles-overview. Accessed November 15, 2021.
Shingles. The American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/shingles. Accessed November 15, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 11/16/2021

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