Home remedies for Shingles
First step: Call your doctor, who will likely put you on a prescription antiviral drug.
Meanwhile, you’ll want all the relief you can get from the burning and pain. You
can try acetaminophen or ibuprofen, plus the remedies in this chapter. But if the
pain is more than you can stand, don’t hesitate to call your doctor, who can
prescribe stronger medication.
Shingles occurs when the dormant herpes zoster virus, which causes chicken
pox, re-awakens in nerve cells and makes its way to the skin. About 20 percent
of people who had chicken pox will later develop shingles, usually when they’re
over age 50. The infection causes a burning, blistering rash—often on the torso,
face, and neck—which appears as a band or patch of raised dots. Itching,
tingling, or pain can be mild or severe. Within a week or so, small, fluid-filled
blisters form, dry up, and crust over. Anything that lowers resistance to
infection, such as illness or stress, can awaken the virus. On average, the rash
and pain last 2 to 4 weeks, but sometimes the pain lingers for months.
Beat the Blisters and Ditch the Itch
• To help dry the blisters, apply calamine lotion. As the wet solution
evaporates from your skin, it also draws moisture from the blisters.
• If you have an aloe vera plant in your home or garden, cut a leaf and
smooth the liquid over your skin. The milky liquid inside the leaves may help
soothe the blisters. Or use an over-the-counter aloe vera gel (make sure it’s 100%
• A paste of baking powder and water will dry up blisters and soothe the
itching. Add enough water to dry baking powder to create a paste, then apply it
liberally to the affected area.
• Another remedy for drying blisters and soothing inflammation is a paste
made from Epsom salt and water. Apply directly to the affected area. Repeat as
often as you wish.
• Brew a tea of lemon balm, an herb from the mint family that European
studies suggest fights herpes viruses. To make it, boil 2 teaspoons dried herb in 1
cup boiling water. Use a cotton ball to dab it directly onto the affected areas.
Some herbalists recommend bolstering the brew with rose oil or mints such as
peppermint, spearmint, and sage.
• Reach into your pantry, where you probably have the ingredients for
another shingles solution: vinegar and honey. Mix them together to form a paste
and dab it onto your sores.
Send the Pain Packing
• Dip a washcloth or towel into cold water, squeeze it out, and lay it over the
affected area. Alternatively, you can use cold milk instead of water. Some people
say that the milk is especially soothing.
• Made from the extract of hot pepper, capsaicin cream can quell pain that
lingers after the rash is gone. Zostrix is one brand to try. When you first put it on,
you’ll feel a burning sensation, but as long as you’re not using it on an open rash,
the burning will diminish as you continue using it over the next few weeks. (Just
don’t use the cream if the skin is broken or you have an open rash—it will burn
• If you still have pain after the blisters have healed, fill a bag with ice and use
it to gently stroke your skin. Experts don’t know why the cold treatment is
helpful, but it does work.
Put Brakes on Breakouts
• As long as you have your doctor’s approval, take 500 to 1,000 milligrams of
supplemental lysine three times a day during an outbreak. This amino acid
prevents viruses from replicating and may speed healing.
• Take two 250-milligram capsules of echinacea three times a day to help
your body fight the infection.
• Try taking cat’s claw, an herb long used for a variety of purposes among
indigenous people of Peru and now considered a promising treatment for viral
disorders, including shingles. Follow the dosage directions on the package.
The Power of Prevention
• To protect others from the virus, wash your hands often, especially if you
have an oozing rash. The blisters contain the varicella virus, so you could infect
someone with chicken pox. Or cover the blisters with an antibiotic ointment and
wrap them with gauze.
Pain After the Pain
Many people who develop shingles experience lingering pain in the affected
area months or even years after an attack. This is called postherpetic
neuralgia (PHN). If you have PHN, be sure to see your doctor, who can
prescribe a medication such as Neurontin (gabapentin), an effective oral drug
approved for shingles. Other possible treatments include the Lidoderm
patch, which feeds medication into damaged nerves under the skin, and an
injection with local anesthetic to block pain signals.
Should I call the doctor?
Yes, and quickly. You should contact the doctor within 72 hours if you develop
the typical symptoms. Starting antiviral drugs immediately can help reduce the
severity and duration of an attack and may also stave off postherpetic neuralgia,
the painful aftereffects of shingles. Call, too, if you’re unable to endure the pain
of a current outbreak of shingles, or if your shingles have disappeared but the
pain hasn’t. If you get shingles on your nose, forehead, or anywhere else near
you’re yes call your doctor immediately for treatment as there is a ris going blind.