Shingles is a painful skin infection that can be caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles causes a rash with blisters on one side of the body. These are typically red, itchy bumps that may be bumpy or flat depending upon where they appear on the body.
Shingles is not contagious and cannot spread from person to person as chickenpox can. However, the virus lives in your nerve roots and can come out of remission for a multitude of reasons, such as stress or a weakened immune system.
Once you have shingles, it’s essential to keep the rash clean and dry! There are many over-the-counter creams available with varying degrees of effectiveness. Some people find that natural remedies work best, while others prefer prescription treatment options like acyclovir cream or homeopathic treatments. We’ll discuss these different types of treatment so you can make an informed decision about which one will work best for your needs!
Medical treatment of shingles include:
- Some prescription antiviral medicines can help to reduce the duration and severity of the infection. These include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. They are most effective when administered the moment the rash appears.
- Topical creams, powders, and sprays for relieving shingles that typically contain topical acyclovir, lidocaine, or capsaicin. Relief comes in the form of a numbing effect.
- Should the bacteria infect the skin and rashes, antibiotics would be required. Should there be no bacteria infection, antibiotics will not be helpful.
- Common painkillers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen
- Pain and pruritus from open lesions can be soothed with lotions such as calamine lotion.
- Anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants, corticosteroids, or numbing agents to help relieve pain (Stankus et al., 2000)
- Applying a wet compress to the area of skin that is experiencing pain and inflammation
- Relieving itchiness with oral intake or topical applications of antihistamines
In addition to the above medical treatments, there are also several alternative treatments for shingles that can help with relieving symptoms.
- Oils with anti-inflammatory properties such as chamomile oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil, can be applied topically for relief
- Traditional Chinese medicine such as acupuncture (which involves the insertion of very thin needles into your skin at specific points), as well as heat therapy such as moxibustion and cupping, which supposedly draws out toxins. These treatments may be done in combination
- Witch hazel cream to reduce inflammation and itchiness
- Manuka or clover honey that can be directly applied to the skin
- A mixture of liquid dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and idoxuridine, an antiviral drug, may reduce swelling and the number of blisters
- Chlorophyll (which is the chemical that gives plants their green color) can be used directly on the rash as a cream or saline solution (Pathak, 2021)
- Keeping the rash clean and dry, covering the inflammation with loosely bound dressing for protection, and wearing loose-fitting clothing to reduce discomfort
- Using cool water to bathe helps not only to keep sores and blisters clean but also to relieve soreness and itchiness
- Adding colloidal (or ground) oatmeal or baking soda to cool bath water to moisten the skin and to soothe sensitive and inflamed skin
- Vitamin supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and selenium to improve immune function
- Consuming a herbal formula of Gentiana scabra, a blue or purple flower occurring throughout North America, which is said to have a positive effect on pain relief in shingles while also decreasing the likelihood of postherpetic neuralgia (Crichton-Stuart, 2018)
- Upgrading one’s diet by taking in more food containing carotenoids such as lycopene, lutein, and provitamin A, which help to boost immune function. Orange foods such as carrot, pumpkin, and apricot, red foods such as watermelon, red pepper, grapefruit, and green foods such as kale, parsley, spinach, melon, and endive.
- Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and reducing stress, which will help to boost immunity and improve the healing function of the body
What are the best over-the-counter creams for shingles?
As mentioned above, antiviral medications are prescription medications. Therefore, over-the-counter creams do not provide any antiviral activity, but they primarily work to relieve redness, pain, and itching symptoms. Topical creams containing lidocaine, capsaicin, or calamine may be helpful. Alternative treatments that can be topically applied include witch hazel cream, essential oils, manuka or clover honey, and chlorophyll. It is advised that you check with your doctor to make sure that these will not interact negatively with your existing medication before applying them.
While it is not possible to cure shingles, it is possible to find relief from the symptoms of this uncomfortable condition. More research needs to be done in order to determine how best to prevent shingles. Still, there are a variety of treatment options, from medical treatment to natural remedies, that can reduce the duration and severity of the infection and provide immediate help with pain and itchiness. Discuss possible options with your doctor to help find the best solution for you.
Crichton-Stuart, C. (2018, June 14). 10 natural treatments and home remedies for shingles. Medical News Today
Pathak, N. (2021, August 11). Shingles treatment, medication, & prevention: Pain relief, antiviral. WebMD. Retrieved September 12, 2021
Stankus, S. J., Dlugopolski, M., & Packer, D. (2000, April 15). Management of herpes Zoster (Shingles) And Postherpetic Neuralgia. American Family Physician