Although there is no known cure for shingles, various shingles treatments are available. Anyone who has previously had chickenpox and thinks that they might have shingles should contact a doctor to avoid harmful complications.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease that results from the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

The primary VZV infection causes chickenpox, usually in children and young adults. This highly contagious disease causes a large rash of itchy blisters. The rash typically affects the chest and back but can spread over the entire body.

Even after a person recovers from chickenpox, VZV can live in some nerve cells for several years before reactivating as shingles.

Shingles also causes a skin rash and blisters. However, a shingles rash occurs on only one side of the body, usually appearing on the face or torso.

Not everyone who gets chickenpox will go on to have shingles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 1 in every 3 people in the United States develop shingles during their lifetime.

There are about 1 million cases of shingles in the U.S. every year.

This article looks at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of shingles, as well as the risk factors and diagnostic process. It also explains what the outlook is for someone with shingles and when to contact a doctor.

Although there is no cure for shingles, numerous treatment options are available.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommend that a person with shingles receive treatment within 3 days.

Timely and effective treatment can help prevent complications, such as chronic nerve pain.

A doctor may recommend medical treatments, such as antivirals, to fight the infection and topical ointments to help relieve inflammation and pain.

People can also manage the symptoms of shingles with at-home remedies.


A doctor can treat shingles with the following prescription medications:

  • antivirals, such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • corticosteroids, such as prednisone (Deltasone), to reduce inflammation
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, to relieve pain
  • tricyclic antidepressants to reduce long-term pain
  • topical pain relievers that contain lidocaine or capsaicin for pain relief

Shingles rashes usually go away within 2–4 weeks. Antiviral treatment can help speed up this process.

The dosage will depend on the specific medication, but people will generally take antivirals three to five times each day for about a week.

Home remedies

Home remedies that may help relieve the symptoms of shingles include:

  • taking cool baths or showers to soothe the skin
  • taking an oatmeal bath to relieve itching
  • applying a cold compress to the rash to reduce inflammation and relieve pain
  • using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication and anti-itch ointments, such as calamine lotion
  • wearing loose-fitting, comfortable clothes
  • eating nutritious meals
  • doing gentle exercises

Shingles vaccine

Although it is not a treatment, the shingles vaccine can prevent a person from getting shingles in the first place.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved two shingles vaccines for adults aged 50 years and older: Zostavax and Shingrix.

The CDC recommend the newer Shingrix vaccine over Zostavax because it is more than 90% effective and provides longer lasting protection.

The first symptoms of shingles include burning or severe tingling sensations, numbness, and itching on one side of the body, which precede a rash.

The rash may appear within several days to a few weeks of the initial symptoms presenting.

Signs of a shingles rash include:

  • a dermatome, or band, of discolored skin on the face, torso, or neck
  • fluid-filled blisters that start to leak fluid and crust over
  • severe pain to the touch
  • itching

People who have shingles may also experience:

Rare but serious complications of shingles include:

  • postherpetic neuralgia, which causes long lasting pain in the affected area
  • blisters in or around the eyes
  • temporary or permanent vision loss
  • hearing loss or balance problems
  • Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which involves a rash on the ear or mouth and muscle weakness in one side of the face
  • vasculopathy, which is inflammation of the blood vessels
  • meningitis, an infection of the membranes lining the brain and spinal cord
  • stroke

VZV causes chickenpox and shingles. When a person, typically a child, has exposure to VZV for the first time, it infects the respiratory tract before spreading to the skin.

A primary VZV infection results in varicella, which people more commonly refer to as chickenpox.

Chickenpox causes fluid-filled blisters all over the body and usually lasts 4–7 days. After this initial infection resolves, inactive VZV particles live inside sensory nerve cells.

Shingles occurs when VZV particles reactive later in life. Therefore, only people who have had chickenpox can develop shingles.

It is unclear why VZV reactivates in some people, but possible triggers for shingles include:

  • emotional stress
  • use of certain medications
  • acute or chronic illness
  • exposure to VZV
  • cancer

Although shingles itself is not contagious, VZV spreads easily between people. VZV can spread from a person with shingles to someone who has never had chickenpox.

If a person has had chickenpox and develops symptoms of shingles, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

The National Institute on Aging recommend that people seek medical treatment no more than 3 days after a shingles rash appears.

A doctor can confirm whether a person has shingles. They will review the person’s medical history for possible risk factors associated with shingles, such as a history of chickenpox or conditions that weaken the immune system.

The doctor may also perform a blood test or take a sample of fluid from a blister. They can check both samples for VZV antibodies or VZV itself.

A positive test result means that a person likely has chickenpox or shingles. The diagnosis depends on whether or not a person has a history of chickenpox.

Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles later in life.

The risk of shingles increases with age. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), shingles is most common in adults over the age of 50 years. However, it can develop at any age if a person previously had chickenpox.

The CDC note that people who have a weakened immune system have a higher risk of developing shingles. A person may have a weakened immune system if they:

Although anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles later in life, not everyone does.

Postherpetic neuralgia is the most common complication of shingles, occurring in up to 18% of people.

Most people recover from shingles within 2–4 weeks.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help speed up the recovery process and prevent serious complications.

Shingles is a common viral infection that occurs due to the reactivation of VZV particles.

Shingles causes a distinctive band-shaped rash of painful, fluid-filled blisters that wraps around one side of the face, neck, or torso.

A person should contact a doctor as soon as possible if they think that they have shingles.

Early and effective treatment can help prevent complications, such as long lasting pain.

Treatments for shingles include antivirals, prescription or OTC pain relievers, and anti-itch ointments.

People can also use home remedies to relieve the symptoms. For example, taking an oatmeal bath and applying a cold compress to the rash can help soothe painful or itchy skin.