WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Herpes zoster (HZ) is also called shingles. It is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus). After you get chickenpox, the virus stays in your body for several years without causing any symptoms. HZ occurs when the virus becomes active again. Once active, the virus will travel along a nerve to your skin and cause a rash.
- Antiviral medicine: These help decrease symptoms and healing time. They may also decrease your risk of developing nerve pain. You will need to start taking them within 3 days of the start of symptoms to prevent nerve pain.
- Pain medicine: You may need NSAIDs, acetaminophen, or opioid medicine depending on how much pain you are in.
- Topical anesthetics: These are used to numb the skin and decrease pain. They can be used as a cream, gel, spray, or patch.
- Anticonvulsants: These decrease nerve pain and may help you sleep at night.
- Antidepressants: These may also be used to decrease nerve pain.
Follow up with your primary healthcare provider as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
Keep your rash clean and dry. Cover your rash with a bandage or clothing. Do not use bandages that stick to your skin. The sticky part may irritate your skin and make your rash last longer.
Prevent the spread of herpes zoster:
The virus can be passed to a person who has never had chickenpox. This person may get chickenpox, but not shingles. You may pass the virus to others as long as you have a rash. The virus is spread by direct contact with the fluid from the blisters. Usually, you cannot spread the virus once the blisters dry up.
A vaccine may be given to adults 50 years of age and older to help prevent shingles. Ask for more information about this vaccine.
Contact your primary healthcare provider if:
- You feel weak or have a headache.
- You have a cough, chills, or a fever.
- You have abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting.
- Your rash becomes more itchy or painful.
- Your rash spreads to other parts of your body.
- Your pain worsens and does not go away even after taking medicine.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Return to the emergency department if:
- You have painful, red, warm skin around the blisters, or the blisters drain pus.
- Your neck is stiff or you have trouble moving it.
- You have trouble moving your arms, legs, or face.
- You have a seizure.
- You have weakness in an arm or leg.
- You become confused, or have difficulty speaking.
- You have dizziness, a severe headache, hearing or vision loss.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.