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ShinglesShingles Diagnosis and Treatment

Let's Talk About Shingles Diagnosis and Treatment

Recovery is easier if you start your meds before the telltale rash appears. Here's how to know if you have it.

    Our Pro PanelShingles Diagnosis and Treatment

    We went to some of the nation's top experts on shingles to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Daniel Allen, M.D.

    Daniel Allan, M.D.Section Head of Family Medicine

    Cleveland Clinic Avon Lake Family Health Center
    Avon Lake, OH
    Peter O’Neill, M.D.

    Peter O’Neill, M.D.Chief of Dermatology and Clinical Assistant Professor

    NYU Winthrop Hospital and NYU Long Island School of Medicine
    Mineola, NY
    William Schaffner, M.D.

    William Schaffner, M.D.Medical Director and Professor of Medicine

    National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
    Nashville, TN

    Frequently Asked QuestionsShingles Diagnosis and Treatment

    Is there a cure for shingles?

    There is no cure, but there are effective treatments that can lessen the severity of the illness, especially if you’re diagnosed early. Antiviral medications are the first-line treatment, and doctors may also prescribe the steroid prednisone and the anticonvulsant gabapentin in an effort to prevent PHN (postherpetic neuralgia), a painful, potentially chronic complication that results from nerve damage and occurs in about one in five people with shingles.

    How early can shingles be diagnosed?

    Believe it or not, many people can feel shingles before the rash even appears. This symptom is known as paresthesia, an itching, burning, or tingling sensation that you experience on one side of the body before the rash is even present. It happens because the virus hangs out in the nerves of your skin, becoming active there before triggering the telltale rash a few days later. If you are experiencing a painful sensation on one side of your body, even if you don’t see a rash, get things checked out.

    Does the shingles vaccine have side effects?

    There’s a good chance you’re not going to feel great for one to three days after, but the side effects are nothing compared to the unpleasantness of shingles. You might experience pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site; muscle pain; fatigue; headache; fever; or upset stomach. Sounds like a drag, but it will rev up your immune system so it’s primed to beat back shingles, which is exactly what you want.

    Are there other complications beside PHN?

    Yes, although rare. If shingles occur in or near your eyes, forehead, or nose it can lead to eye pain, glaucoma, or even permanent loss of vision. Shingles on or around your ears can cause Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which leads to dizziness and balance problems, ringing in your ear (tinnitus), earaches, facial paralysis, and hearing loss. And shingles can spread into the brain or spinal cord, resulting in a stroke or meningitis.

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood is a award-winning freelance writer and former magazine editor specializing in health, nutrition, wellness, and parenting.