In order to fully grasp the nature of treatment employed for curing shingles, it is important to understand how the disease is contracted. It is not caused by exposure to a foreign virus, but the reactivation of one already subsisting within the body.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox in human beings. Even when one recovers from the latter condition completely, a few viral particles remain within body, existing in a state of dormancy in the nerve passages of the spinal region. When this virus gets reactivated at a later stage, and there is much ambiguity as to what triggers this phenomenon, shingles manifests itself, usually in typical fashion – with a band of painful rash on one side of the body.
What Treatment Entails
Understanding the medical specificities of the shingles disease reveals one important fact – since it is caused by a dormant virus that resides within the body, and is likely to have subsisted in it for quite a while, treatment will likely not expel the virus from the body. Thus, the treatment of shingles is concerned with one, shortening the duration of the illness and two, reducing discomfort. There is no real cure for the disease which completely destroys the virus.
Of course, the most instinctive reaction to shingles for most individuals would be consulting a physician. The treatment he offers if likely to be of this nature:
- Immediate medication:
- Antiviral medicines are prescribed to lessen the intensity of the viral attack and prevent further proliferation of the same. Essentially, these medicines shorten the duration of the illness, thus propelling the healing process. Also, early recourse to such medication reduces risk of later complications (for example, contracting postherpetic neuralgia). However, in some (rather rare) cases, where the patients are young and healthy, and the infection is mild, strong antiviral medication may be avoided.
- Over-the-counter painkillers are given for reducing localized pains in the area affected by the rash.
- In a few cases, where the pain is very severe, doctors may prescribe stronger painkillers such as opioids, anticonvulsants and antidepressants, all of which help relieve nerve pain.
- Antibiotic lotions and creams for topical application on the blisters may also be prescribed. This is to prevent any skin infection, especially in cases where the blisters have much fluid and are prone to leaking.
- Later treatment:
In the unfortunate circumstance where further complications arise post recovery, more similar medication is prescribed to prevent discomfort. These include:
- For those who contract postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) – the most common of all complications, whereby nerve pain continues post healing – painkillers of varied intensity are prescribed. Often opioids, anticonvulsants, antidepressants and topical anaesthetics are given for alleviation of pain.
- Topical mediation for scar reduction is prescribed in cases where the rash was severe and leaves left dark marks.
While this is the treatment that shingles patients usually receive in terms of medication, there are some measures they can take themselves to reduce the severity of discomfort.
These are not substitutes to medication but supplementary practices that help patients deal with the pain and potential risks involved. Some popular self-care measures are discussed below:
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes is recommended for it prevents further aggravation of sensitive skin caused by chaffing.
- Ensuring the rash is kept clean and all blister leaks are tended to is also important. Neglecting hygiene to this extent can lead to further complications such as post recovery skin infections.
- Avoiding adhesive dressing to cover the rash is essential or the healing process is stymied.
- If blisters begin oozing liquid, taking a cool bath often helps. However, the water should not be too cold for that could slow down healing. A better option thus is to use a cold compress every few hours for 20 minute intervals for the purpose of soothing the blistered skin.
Self-care at home is as important as medication for speedy recovery. However, the first measure to be taken on appearance of symptoms is seeking medical help, especially for aged individuals with lower immunity.