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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. Medications can shorten the duration of the illness, reduce the risk of developing complications, and relieve discomforts.

If you develop postherpetic neuralgia with severe pain, your doctor may prescribe medications that are used for chronic pain conditions.

Prescription Medications

Antiviral medications

  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir


  • 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
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir

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

Common names include:

  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

Treatment with corticosteroids may reduce short-term discomfort.

Side effects may include:

Over the Counter Medications

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


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

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 the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, 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


Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated September 19, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.

Shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated January 10, 2011. Accessed May 30, 2013.

Last reviewed June 2016 by James Cornell, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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