5 Home Remedies for Shingles

These home remedies should provide relief during a case of shingles.

Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus, or VZV) and causes a painful, itchy rash in one place on the body. It's most common in adults over 50 years of age; in fact, about half of people over age 80 may experience it.

The virus often begins as pain and itching in the skin before a red rash appears one to two days later, with small, water-filled blisters. These blisters soon rupture and scar over, healing and fading over the course of a few weeks. This process can be extremely uncomfortable and painful, making even the littlest actions difficult.

If you think you have shingles, see a healthcare professional immediately, especially if it's on your face or near your eyes (this can cause lasting damage to your eyes).

In addition to medical treatment, there are also home remedies that can help ease shingles symptoms. Here's how to minimize discomfort and pain with stuff you probably already have at home.

Cool Compresses

"The skin can feel extremely sensitive to even the lightest touch. Keeping it cool with the use of cool compresses may help," said Dr. Strowd.

If your rash feels too sensitive for a direct cool compress, try applying a moist cotton towel to the area for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day (think refrigerator temperature, not freezer temperature), said Dr. Strowd.

Also, avoid contact with any open blisters, said Lauren Eckert Ploch, MD, an Augusta, Georgia-based dermatologist.

Vaseline

"Covering the rash with a thin layer of Vaseline and then a large cotton bandage will protect the skin from clothing or other irritations," said Dr. Strowd. This will also help keep you from touching the area and spreading the infection (to others), said Dr. Ploch.

According to the CDC, the risk of spreading VZV to others is low if you cover the shingles rash. People with shingles can't spread the virus before their rash blisters appear or after the rash crusts.

Apply a thin layer of Vaseline after washing once daily and cover with a non-stick bandage. You can also use other petroleum or dimethicone products, said Dr. Ploch, but avoid using lotions or other topical OTC medications that contain fragrance as this could be irritating to the skin. Aim for plain, non-irritating products for sensitive skin.

Stick to Loose, Cotton Clothes

While your skin heals, it can feel extremely uncomfortable, and even painful. Loose cotton clothing may help with easing this discomfort, says the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

To fight itch, "wear loose fitting clothes with soft natural fibers such as cotton or linen," said Dr. Strowd. "These will be more comfortable than tight synthetic fabrics or wool clothing garments."

In addition, covering with cotton clothing will help you to avoid infecting others, who could get chickenpox and later shingles. Until the shingles rash clears, you are contagious, says the AAD. That's why dermatologists recommend that you cover the rash to help prevent contagion.

Oatmeal or Baking Soda Baths

You'll want to care for your uncomfortable skin safely and effectively while it heals, according to the AAD. Soaking in oatmeal or baking soda baths can soothe your skin with a shingles rash.

These can provide temporary relief for itching and can be soothing, said Dr. Strowd. Look for colloidal (or ground) oatmeal to add to cool bath water, or add baking soda. Both can help calm itching and are gentle on the skin.

Colloidal oatmeal is made by grinding oat grain, or Avena sativa, into a fine powder. It softens or soothes the skin because it contains fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. You'll find colloidal oatmeal at many places that sell health and beauty products, according to the AAD.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion is a topical pink lotion you can use to treat mild itchiness, pain, and discomfort of the skin. The over-the-counter (OTC) medicine can also be used to dry out oozing skin irritations and protect your skin, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends calamine lotion for shingles relief. It's gentle and can help keep itching to a minimum.

You can apply the lotion directly to your rash to get relief from the symptoms of this condition. Remember to wait to apply until your blisters have scabbed over, said Dr. Ploch.

Medical Treatments

A healthcare professional may prescribe oral anti-viral medication, which you'll take for seven to 10 days, said Lindsay C. Strowd, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Health. They might also prescribe oral or topical meds to help with the pain.

While shingles isn't super contagious to your average, healthy person, it can pose a risk if you're pregnant and have never had chickenpox or the vaccine, are an older adult, or have a compromised immune system. Try to avoid contact with these vulnerable groups until your rash has scabbed over (it's usually spread through the blister fluid) and keep it covered with a bandage, said Dr. Strowd.

Vaccine for Shingles

There is a vaccine called Shingrix that is available to prevent shingles. It's recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for healthy adults over age 50. Shingrix is also recommended for adults 19 years and older who have weakened immune systems because of disease or medical therapy like steroids or chemotherapy.

Two doses separated by two to six months are required. The vaccine is over 90% effective.

Summary

Although most cases of shingles don't last longer than seven to ten days, shingles can be a very painful condition. If you think you have the symptoms of shingles, see a healthcare provider right away. These home remedies can also ease your discomfort and help end symptoms earlier.

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