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Your Guide to Preventing and Managing Shingles

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7 Mistakes People With Shingles Make

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Lorna Collier on September 17, 2020
  • woman itching her arm
    Things That Make Shingles Rash and Symptoms Worse
    So you've just been told you have shingles—a painful rash caused by the same virus that gave you chickenpox way-back-when. Are there smart ways to treat this illness—and mistakes that can make it more difficult to recover from? Yes. Here is some timeless shingles information that can help you avoid errors in your shingles care.
  • close up of doctor handing over prescription
    1. Delaying treatment until the medication doesn't work.
    A common first-line treatment for shingles is antiviral medication, such as valacyclovir (Valtrex) and acyclovir (Zovirax). These medications can dry up the shingles blisters more quickly, reduce burning and itching, and keep complications like long-lasting nerve pain at bay. But you need to start these within 24 to 72 hours of the rash appearing for these to be fully effective. So don't put off that doctor visit if you suspect a shingles rash.
  • woman scratching neck
    2. Scratching those insanely itchy spots.
    Your shingles rash can itch. And itch. And itch some more. Your body's reaction to that is to scratch—repeatedly. But this can lead to infection—what doctors call a secondary bacterial infection, in addition to shingles. For the sake of your skin and to prevent additional infection, ask your doctor for topical sprays or creams or other medication that can help control the itching and pain. Or try cool compresses, ice packs, or even oatmeal baths instead.
  • Tired business person with headache
    3. Keeping up your normal stressful lifestyle.
    One reason researchers suspect shingles flares up is stress, which can burn out your immune system, allowing the shingles virus (which is really the chickenpox virus, lying dormant) to resurface. So think of shingles as your body telling you to slow down and chill out. Try to relax, sleep well, eat well, exercise gently (if your doctor says it's OK) and in general, take care of yourself as you heal. Take time off work or adjust your schedule if necessary.
  • man-checking-neck-in-mirror
    4. Ignoring lesions on your face or head.
    A common myth about shingles is that you only get it on your trunk, such as along one side of your waist, chest or other areas of your torso. But shingles spots can appear anywhere, including in or near your eyes, ears and mouth. These can lead to more serious complications, including vision loss or hearing and balance problems. Contact your doctor if you see lesions in these areas. You may need additional medication.
  • senior-woman-at-doctors-appointment-pointing-at-shoulder
    5. Suffering in silence rather than seeking additional treatment.
    Sometimes you need to call your doctor back or even seek out a second opinion if you are not getting relief from your shingles symptoms. Besides antiviral medication, other types of shingles treatments are available, including special patches, sprays, or other kinds of drugs that can help quell the pain. This is especially true if your pain lasts after your rash has gone away. One relatively common shingles complication is postherpetic neuralgia—a type of long-lasting nerve pain. There are treatments for this, such as anticonvulsant drugs, but you need to reach out to your doctor to get them.
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  • Hispanic granddaughter kissing grandmother on the cheek
    6. Assuming you aren’t contagious.
    While it's true that you can't pass on shingles, you CAN pass on chickenpox. The shingles virus is the chickenpox virus reborn. If you have contact with someone who has never had chickenpox and hasn't been vaccinated against it, that person can get chickenpox. The contact must be with the open part of your blisters, so cover up these areas if possible. Chickenpox can be especially dangerous for adults, infants in utero, and babies.
  • Senior man receiving shot in the arm
    7. Figuring you can only get shingles once.
    A new shingles vaccine is available that's more than 90% effective at preventing the illness. You might be thinking that since you already have shingles, you won't need this vaccine. But that’s a common misconception. Unfortunately, people can and do get shingles more than once, so after you have recovered from shingles, check with your doctor about getting immunized against a future recurrence of this nasty illness.
Shingles Information | 7 Mistakes People With Shingles Make

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
  1. Shingles FAQ. National Foundation for Infectious Disease. http://www.nfid.org/idinfo/shingles/shingles-faq.pdf
  2. Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Overview. Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html
  3. Shingles. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles
  4. Minassian C, Thomas SL, Smeeth L, et al. Acute Cardiovascular Events After Herpes Zoster: A Self-controlled Case Series Analysis in Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Older Residents of the United States. PLoS Med 2015;12(12):e1001919. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4682931/
  5. Shingles. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-2
  6. Shingles. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/shingles.html
  7. Shingles: Hope Through Research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
  8. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Shingles-Hope-...
  9. FAQs. National Shingles Foundation. http://www.vzvfoundation.org
  10. Do You Know the Truth About Shingles? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/do-you-know-the-truth-about-shingles-infographic/
  11. New Study Alters Long-Held Beliefs About Shingles. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110201122536.htm
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.