While it's imperative that you see your doctor if you suspect you have shingles, you may also want to try some of the following home remedies to ease the pain.
Cool the pain. Cold packs can help relieve the pain from hot, blistered skin. Gently place a cold cloth on the blisters or wrap a towel around the affected area and pour ice water on it. Apply for 20 minutes, then leave off for 20 minutes, and repeat until the pain decreases. You can also try a cold milk compress in the same manner.
Stay in bed. Rest will help your body's defenses come to your rescue.
Take an anti-inflammatory drug. Ibuprofen helps reduce inflammation and is the first line of defense in fighting the pain. Aspirin may be another option. If you are allergic to ibuprofen and aspirin, take over-the-counter (OTC) acetaminophen (it can help relieve pain, although it doesn't fight inflammation). If these don't help, ask your doctor to prescribe something for the pain. Codeine or other mild narcotics can help reduce the pain in the early phase of shingles. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.
Rub on relief. Your doctor may recommend or prescribe a topical local anesthetic cream to be used on your blistered skin. Be leery of OTC topical products that contain diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or any ingredient ending in -caine, however; these can cause an allergic reaction and thus may worsen the situation.
Don't pop the blisters. The temptation may be unbearable, but you will only prolong healing time and open the door to scarring and secondary infection.
Don't spread them. Although it won't bring relief to you, stay away from people who are at risk: Avoid people with any sort of immune problem, such as transplant or cancer patients and children who haven't yet been exposed to chicken pox.
Consider a hot-pepper fix. If the blisters have healed, but the pain persists, what options do you have? Apply hot peppers? Not exactly.
But applying an OTC cream (such as Zostrix) that contains capsaicin,
which is derived from hot peppers, may help. However, many doctors don't recommend capsaicin therapy since it may actually worsen pain for the first two or three days. If you're really suffering, ask your doctor for advice on trying this remedy.
Try to relax. For lingering discomfort from shingles (or from any type of chronic pain, really), consider learning self-hypnosis, imagery, or meditation or engaging in some other activity that can help you relax. Coping with pain is stressful, and stress, in turn, may increase pain perception. Finding a reliable home remedy to calm yourself certainly won't hurt you, and it may help you deal more effectively with the pain.
Try TENS. You may be able to relieve the symptoms of shingles with a TENS (which stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) device. In theory, TENS blocks pain signals from reaching the brain with a weak electrical current (which is painless, though you will feel a tingling sensation). You can purchase a TENS unit to use at home for around $100. Your doctor's office or local hospital may be able to give you information on where to purchase one of these.
Consider an antidepressant. Some studies have shown that low doses of antidepressant medications help relieve shingles-related pain, even in patients who are not suffering from depression. How? Some antidepressants block the removal of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Extra amounts of circulating serotonin may keep pain signals from reaching the brain. Talk it over with your doctor to determine if an antidepressant might help you cope with continuing pain following a shingles outbreak.
From relaxation techniques to antidepressants, the home treatment options to ease the pain of shingles are varied. The good news is one of the home remedies just might work!
For more information about shingles and how to combat them, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- If your skin is dry and irritated, read Home Remedies for Dry Skin.
- If you are breaking out with acne, check out Home Remedies for Dermatitis.
- Can't stop scratching those irritated spots? Try Home Remedies for Itching.
- To learn about a more serious skin disease, go to Home Remedies for Psoriasis.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.