Health Information

Medications for Shingles

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medicines listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medicines as recommended by your doctor or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

There are no medicines available to cure shingles . There are medicines that can shorten the duration of the illness, reduce your risk of developing complications, and relieve some of your discomfort.

If you develop post-herpetic neuralgia with severe pain, your doctor may prescribe medicines that are used for chronic pain conditions.

Prescription Medications

Antiviral medications

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)

Corticosteroids

  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

Over-the-Counter Medications

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antipruritics
    • Diphenhydramine
    • Caladryl
  • Antibiotic ointment
    • Polysporin
    • Neosporin
  • Capsaicin cream
    • Zostrix

Prescription Medications

Antiviral Medications

Common names include:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)

Antiviral medications will not cure shingles, but they can shorten the duration of the illness. They may also reduce pain and discomfort. While more evidence is needed, antiviral medications might help prevent complications of shingles, such as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Side effects may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Tremor
Corticosteroids

Common names include:

  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

Treatment with corticosteroids may reduce short-term discomfort.

Side effects may include:

Over-the-Counter Medications

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen can help relieve some of the aches and pains associated with shingles.

Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen can also help relieve some of the aches and pains associated with shingles. To decrease your chance of having an upset stomach, take ibuprofen with food.

Anti-itch Medications
Diphenhydramine

Common brand name: Benadryl

Diphenhydramine can help decrease the itching associated with the rash of shingles.

Side effects may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness—Do not take medication before driving or operating heavy equipment.
  • Increased effects of alcohol or other sedatives
Caladryl Lotion

Common brand name: Caladryl

Caladryl lotion can help soothe the itching associated with the rash of shingles. Apply lotion to the rash several times each day.

Antibiotic Ointment

Common brand names include:

  • Polysporin
  • Neosporin

Antibiotic ointments may be recommended if your rash has become infected. Talk to your doctor about whether it is necessary to apply antibiotic ointment to open areas of you rash. It is usually applied several times each day.

Capsaicin Cream

Common brand name: Zostrix

Capsaicin cream is used on the skin to relieve the itching, burning, and discomfort of shingles. Do not apply capsaicin cream until your rash has crusted over.

Side effects may include burning, stinging, or warm sensation when first applied to the skin.

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take your medicine as directed. Do not change the amount or schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking the medicine.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your medicine with anyone.
  • Drugs can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one drug, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if you:

  • Have any questions about your medication
  • Have any side effects
  • Feel that the medication is not working

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2014 -
  • Update Date: 05/28/2014 -
  • Shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html . Updated January 10, 2011. Accessed May 30, 2013.

  • Zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated May 20, 2013. Accessed May 30, 2013.