The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications 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 medications 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 medications available to cure shingles. However, there are medications that can shorten the duration of the illness, reduce your risk of developing complications (such as postherpetic neuralgia), and relieve some of your discomfort.

If you do develop postherpetic neuralgia, with severe and unrelenting pain, your healthcare provider may give you medications that are often helpful for chronic pain conditions, such as tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants, topical lidocaine, or nerve-blocking injections.

Prescription Medications

Antiviral medications

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

Corticosteroids

  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

Over-the-Counter Medications

Acetaminophen

  • Tylenol

Ibuprofen

  • Motrin
  • Advil

Antipruritics

  • Diphenhydramine
  • Caladryl

Antibiotic ointment

  • Polysporin
  • Neosporin

Capsaicin cream

  • Zostrix

Prescription Medications

Antiviral Medications

Common names include:

Antiviral medications won’t cure shingles, but they can shorten the duration of the illness. They may also reduce the amount of pain and discomfort you suffer from the rash. Antiviral medications may help prevent complications of shingles, such as postherpetic neuralgia. In order for antiviral medications to work, they have to be started within 72 hours of the rash’s emergence.

Possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Tremor

Corticosteroids

Common names include:

  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

Treatment with corticosteroids may, in the short term, reduce herpes-related discomfort, but it is associated with a risk of adverse effects in susceptible patients and does not reduce the risk of long-term postherpetic neuralgia.

Possible side effects include:

  • Exacerbation of high blood pressure
  • Exacerbation of diabetes
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Insomnia

Over-the-Counter Medications

Acetaminophen

Common brand names include:

  • Tylenol

Acetaminophen can be helpful in relieving some of the aches and pains associated with shingles. Do not take a larger dose than is recommended by your healthcare provider. Do not drink alcoholic beverages while you are taking acetaminophen.

Ibuprofen

Common brand names include:

  • Motrin
  • Advil

Ibuprofen can also help relieve some of the aches and pains associated with shingles. Because some people find ibuprofen to be very hard on the stomach, you should take this medicine with food. Drinking alcoholic beverages while you are taking ibuprofen can increase the chance that it will irritate your stomach. If you have asthma, stomach problems, or ulcer problems, do not take ibuprofen without consulting your healthcare provider.

On rare occasions, people have allergic reactions to ibuprofen. If you notice a new skin rash, difficulty breathing, or puffiness or swelling in your face or around your eyes, stop taking ibuprofen and immediately contact your healthcare provider.

Antipruritic (Anti-itch) Medications

Diphenhydramine

Common brand names include:

  • Benadryl

Diphenhydramine can be very helpful in decreasing the itching associated with the rash of shingles.

Possible side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness (Caution: Do not take medicine before driving or operating heavy equipment.)
  • Increased effects of alcohol or other sedatives; do not use other such products unless recommended by your healthcare provider

Caladryl Lotion

Common brand names include:

  • Caladryl

Caladryl lotion can help soothe the itching associated with the rash of shingles. Apply lotion to the rash several times each day. Do not get the caladryl on clothing because it may make a pink stain. A clear lotion is available in some pharmacies.

Antibiotic Ointment

Common brand names include:

Antibiotic ointments may help decrease the possibility of your rash becoming infected. Talk to your doctor about whether or not it is necessary to apply an antibiotic ointment to open areas of your rash. It is usually applied several times each day.

Possible side effects include:

  • Increased redness or itching due to an antibiotic allergy

Capsaicin Cream

Common brand names include:

  • Zostrix

Capsaicin cream is used on the skin to relieve the itching, burning, and discomfort of shingles. It is manufactured from the active ingredient of hot chile peppers. Don’t apply capsaicin cream until your rash has crusted over.

Some people prefer to wear rubber gloves while applying the cream. If you don’t, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the cream. Be very careful not to get the cream near your eyes, as it will burn and sting. If you do get some in your eyes, flush them thoroughly with cool water.

Possible side effects include:

  • Burning, stinging, or warm sensation when first applied to the skin

Special Considerations

Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:

  • Take them as directed—not more, not less, not at a different time.
  • Do not stop taking them without consulting your doctor.
  • Don’t share them with anyone else.
  • Know what effects and side effects to expect, and report them to your doctor.
  • If you are taking more than one drug, even if it is over-the-counter, be sure to check with a physician or pharmacist about drug interactions.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if you have any questions about your medication, any side effects that are troublesome, or if you feel that the medication is not working after the allotted time period. Call your doctor any time you have questions about using your medicine.