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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Shingles is a painful rash. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster). After you get chickenpox, the virus stays in your body for several years without causing any symptoms. Shingles occurs when the virus becomes active again. The active virus travels along a nerve to your skin and causes a rash.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- You have trouble moving your arms, legs, or face.
- You have a seizure.
Call your doctor if:
- You have weakness in an arm or leg.
- You become confused, or have difficulty speaking.
- You have dizziness, a severe headache, or hearing or vision loss.
- 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 feel weak or have a headache.
- You have a cough, chills, or a fever.
- You have abdominal pain or nausea, or you are 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 you take medicine.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
You may need any of the following:
- Antiviral medicine helps 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.
- Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
- Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
- NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
- Topical anesthetics are used to numb the skin and decrease pain. They can be a cream, gel, spray, or patch.
- Anticonvulsants decrease nerve pain and may help you sleep at night.
- Antidepressants may be used to decrease nerve pain.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
Follow up with your 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 shingles:
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.
Prevent shingles or another shingles outbreak:
A vaccine may be given to help prevent shingles. Ask for more information about this vaccine.
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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.
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