Shingles: Care Instructions
Your Care Instructions
Shingles (herpes zoster) causes pain and a blistered rash. The rash can appear anywhere on the body but will be on only one side of the body, the left or right. It will be in a band, a strip, or a small area. The pain can be very severe. Shingles can also cause tingling or itching in the area of the rash. The blisters scab over after a few days and heal in 2 to 4 weeks. Medicines can help you feel better and may help prevent more serious problems caused by shingles.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. When you have chickenpox, the virus gets into your nerve roots and stays there (becomes dormant) long after you get over the chickenpox. If the virus becomes active again, it can cause shingles.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. Antiviral medicine helps you get better faster and may help prevent later problems.
- Try not to scratch or pick at the blisters. They will crust over and fall off on their own if you leave them alone.
- Put cool, wet cloths on the area to relieve pain and itching. You can also use calamine lotion. Try not to use so much lotion that it cakes and is hard to get off.
- Put cornstarch or baking soda on the sores to help dry them out so they heal faster.
- Do not use thick ointment, such as petroleum jelly, on the sores. This will keep them from drying and healing.
- To help remove loose crusts, soak them in tap water. This can help decrease oozing, and dry and soothe the skin.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Avoid close contact with people until the blisters have healed. It is very important for you to avoid contact with anyone who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. Pregnant women, young babies, and anyone else who has a hard time fighting infection (such as someone with HIV, diabetes, or cancer) is especially at risk.
When should you call for help?
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have a new or higher fever.
- You have a severe headache and a stiff neck.
- You lose the ability to think clearly.
- The rash spreads to your forehead, nose, eyes, or eyelids.
- You have eye pain, or your vision gets worse.
- You have new pain in your face, or you cannot move the muscles in your face.
- Blisters spread to new parts of your body.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:
- The rash has not healed after 2 to 4 weeks.
- You still have pain after the rash has healed.