Itchy & Scratchy? 5 Tips for When Shingles Strikes

Shingles sign

Rashes are common, but if you have a rash you’ve never seen before, it could be shingles. One in three Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime. The question is, what are the very first signs of shingles, and how does it compare to other rashes? 

Shingles is a common virus (varicella-zoster virus) that’s likely to already be in your body if you have ever had chickenpox. It tends to stay dormant in most people. However, if you have a compromised immune system (which may be a result of aging, medications, or illness), the virus can re-emerge as shingles. 

Are you concerned you might have shingles? Don’t worry; Smith Caldwell can help you to better understand the virus and take steps to prevent and treat it. 

What does a shingles rash look like?

The varicella-zoster virus doesn’t act like it did the first time around. As mentioned above, you may have already experienced this virus in the form of chickenpox. And, if so, you will likely remember that chickenpox tends to affect the whole of your body. However, with shingles, you will typically see a rash begin to form only on one area of the body—often the chest, back, or stomach. If you get a chance to examine the rash, you’ll likely see tiny blisters filled with fluid. These tiny blisters will eventually burst and heal, often leaving light scars. 

What are the very first signs of shingles?

One of the very first signs of shingles is an itching or burning sensation, as if you have sunburn. If you experience this itching, burning, or pain, and a rash that follows shortly after, there is a good chance it might be shingles. The rash typically only affects one side of the body, which can be key for deciding if you should see a doctor. However, it is also common to have a mild fever or body aches accompanying the rash. You might feel tired and run down, or even have accompanying cold or flu symptoms. If you find yourself suffering with these symptoms, it is a good idea to visit your doctor. 

Can kids get shingles?

Shingles is most likely to affect people over 50 or people with compromised immune systems. Lupus patients are particularly susceptible. If your child has lupus or a weakened immune system, they are more likely to get shingles; however, most children do not get shingles because the virus must first manifest as chickenpox. That said, it is not impossible for children to get shingles, and if they do, it can cause them to feel particularly unwell. As with any rash, if your child displays symptoms, it is important to get them checked out by a doctor. 

What is the treatment for shingles?

As with many conditions, early diagnosis of shingles will lead to a speedier recovery. Some common antiviral medications can stop shingles from worsening, and some medicated creams or even steroid injections can help alleviate the pain. Unfortunately, however, they are unlikely to completely eliminate the itchy rash, especially if it is diagnosed late. It is not uncommon for shingles to be mistaken for bug bites or allergic reactions, leading to delays in treatment (and, as a result, recovery). This is why it is so important that you learn to recognize the symptoms early on. Fortunately, though, if you think you may have shingles, it can still be managed with just a few simple steps.

Top Five Shingles Rash Treatment Tips

1. Cleanse daily but gently

Daily cleansing of the blisters is a must. It prevents the risk of spreading infection, and when done with cool water, it can do wonders to relieve the burning sensation. However, each time you wash, you need to be very gentle. A clean microfiber cloth and some gentle soap (e.g., fragrance free) are great options to ensure you don’t irritate or exfoliate the already raw and tender skin. Additionally, cool water is always better than hot because hot water increases blood flow, which can further irritate the skin. 

If you’re feeling especially itchy, try a cool bath with two cups of old-fashioned oats. The oatmeal nourishes and promotes healing, while the cool water soothes. If oats don’t work, try baking soda. Give yourself at least fifteen minutes in the bath, if not longer. Also, always dry your body completely and wash the towel you used. Reusing or sharing a towel can spread the virus around to other areas of your body and to other people. 

2. Apply aloe

Have you ever had a painful sunburn that only a generous amount of aloe vera gel could relieve? The same principle applies here. Aloe is one of the best natural moisturizers for everyone, not just shingles sufferers. It promotes healing and soothes the skin, and it also acts as a barrier to protect your broken skin from bacteria. 

If you want extra soothing power, put a bottle of aloe in your fridge for a few hours before you use it—the cool gel will feel amazing on your tender skin. Also, try to stick with products that are 100% pure aloe vera gel. Many websites and health blogs will suggest vitamin E to help reduce scarring; however, vitamin E has been shown to cause contact dermatitis (a red, itchy rash) without actually helping the appearance of scars at all. Another rash to contend with is the last thing you want during a shingles outbreak!

3. Apply a baking soda paste

We know it feels unnatural to be putting things from your pantry on your body rather than in your body. However, a mild baking soda paste can offer excellent itch relief. Simply mix one tablespoon of baking soda with three tablespoons of cold water, and you’ve got the paste ready to use. Apply it generously to your irritated skin and bask in the cool, soothing, food-adjacent itch relief. 

4. Embrace your comfortable side

When treating shingles, it’s best to choose soft, natural fibers for your clothing, such as cotton or linen. These allow your skin to breathe, which is important for the healing process. Stay away from tight or fitted clothing, and while it might be tempting to use this as an excuse to wear your sweats all day, make sure they are made from natural fibers, as well. Fleece sweatpants can be just as bad as tight leather pants when it comes to breathability.

5. Eat foods with antiviral properties 

Though they aren’t considered a cure, antiviral-packed foods can help to speed your recovery from the shingles rash. Items like ginger, lemongrass, coconuts, elderberry, acai berries, garlic, fennel, and lemon balm are wonderful ingredients to help boost your immune system. Some people with shingles or similar viruses (such as HSV1 and 2) also swear by peppermint as a pain-soothing antiviral tea that greatly aids in recovery. 

The shingles vaccine

These tips can all help you to manage the pain and itching you’re likely to experience with shingles. However, the best way to prevent shingles from occurring is through a simple vaccine. The CDC recommends it, especially for adults over 50, to prevent shingles and reduce the risk of serious complications related to it. If you haven’t tested positive for the shingles virus, a chickenpox vaccine should be administered instead. 

Smith Caldwell Pharmacy

It might not be ideal for you to schedule a doctor’s appointment just to get a quick vaccine. In this case, it is important to know that most pharmacies now provide vaccines as well, offering a quick and convenient solution for when a doctor’s visit isn’t plausible. 

At Smith Caldwell Pharmacy, we offer these and other vaccines, as well as other basic medical services, like blood pressure screenings. We value our patients and will always make sure you have the information you need to feel healthy and protected, with or without shingles. 

Please note: a shingles vaccine cannot be given for at least six months after your most recent shingles outbreak. However, don’t let this wait time discourage you. There are several medications your physician can prescribe to help with the stinging and pain, and we can fill them at Smith Caldwell—both commercially and as compounded items. If your shingles symptoms are too severe to come into our store, we’ve got you covered: we can deliver your medications to you at no charge, or you are free to use our convenient drive thru. 

Ready to get your shingles vaccination, or pick up a much-needed prescription for shingles pain relief? Get connected with us! Whatever your pharmaceutical needs, Smith Caldwell is here to help. Call 501-404-2740, or visit us online at https://www.smithcaldwell.com/ today!

*COVID-19 Update: The COVID-19 pandemic is changing rapidly and the CDC is implementing different strategies to maintain preventive services, including immunization. We are currently not offering immunizations or injections at this time. Find up-to-date guidance on vaccinations and clinical practice here or call us.