Question: What is the best treatment for long-term shingles. My mother is 88 and has suffered with this condition for many years. She seems to do better and then it returns with a vengeance. She has taken Valtrex, but it doesn’t always work.
Dr. Hibberd's answer:
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of the torso. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. For years, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles. There's no cure for shingles, but prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs can speed healing and reduce risk of complications. Valtrex is one such drug. Sometimes, the pain can be very severe, so her doctor may prescribe anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin, tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, and numbing agents, such as lidocaine, delivered via a cream, gel, spray or skin patch, or even medications that contain narcotics, such as codeine. It’s best to take a cool bath or apply cold compress on blisters during an attack.
I also recommend a one-time shingles vaccination to all victims of shingles as well as for all adults over the age of 60 unless contraindications exist. The herpes zoster vaccination (Zostavax) will help prevent recurrent shingles episodes.