Shingles Scabs: Healing, Treatment, And At-Home Care

Shingles scabs, like scabs from other skin conditions, are signs of skin healing and protect the underlying skin as it recovers. However, the scabs may not be wholly healed for weeks. Therefore, you should treat these scabs with care even after the blisters have healed.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do at home to treat shingles scabs and improve their appearance. We'll examine how to treat shingle scabs, your treatment options, and prevention tips.

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Shingles explained

What are shingles?

One-third of all Americans will have shingles at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the rash of shingles can be treated, it's best to see a doctor as soon as possible once symptoms appear.¹

The painful rash of shingles usually appears in a narrow stripe down one side of the body or face. Blisters make up the rash and are readily damaged. They will form a scab in 7–10 days and be completely gone in 2–4 weeks.

Seeking treatment early can help you avoid issues and heal the rash faster. While shingles aren't typically considered a life-threatening illness, that doesn't mean you shouldn't see a doctor if you're experiencing symptoms. 

Schedule a visit to the doctor within two to three days if you think you may have shingles. Don't suffer in silence if the pain of shingles keeps you from seeking medical attention. There is no need to endure discomfort any longer than necessary, thanks to the availability of effective treatments.

Causes

Although shingles itself isn’t contagious, the varicella-zoster virus may cause chickenpox in people who have never had the disease. 

Infection is only transmitted via direct contact with a blister that is actively leaking. Once the blisters have crusted over or been covered, you are no longer infectious.

You are more likely to get shingles if you have ever had chickenpox. The varicella-zoster virus is the root cause of both diseases; in the case of chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body long after the original outbreak has subsided. Years later, it can resurface as shingles.

Shingles symptoms

The intense pain associated with shingles can last between two to four weeks. Tingling discomfort is a common precursor to the rash that may appear anywhere from two to four days beforehand. There may be severe discomfort for some people.

Tingling, itching, joint discomfort, swollen glands, and a searing ache are common later symptoms. A rash will occur within a few days of the onset of symptoms. The rash starts as little red patches that quickly develop into fluid-filled blisters and eventually scab over. Scratching might cause the blisters to break, which can leave scarring after the rash clears up.

Although shingles often manifest in the chest, face, spine, abdomen, and mouth, the rash can also develop in other body sections and even in more than one spot. 

Pain and a rash are the most noticeable symptoms of shingles; however, the rash is more unpleasant than irritating. Rash symptoms are often localized to a single area or side of the body.

What are shingles scabs?

The rash's blisters typically begin to heal after 7–10 days. The scabs appear after the blisters have dried up. These sores are often flat and dry and come in various colors, including red, brown, and yellow.

The scabs that form after shingles blisters have healed will only show up on the affected side of the body. It is unlike most skin problems, which manifest on both sides equally.

The healing period for shingles scabs

About 10–18% of people with shingles have persistent nerve discomfort after their first attack. The pain and agony from shingles can persist for weeks or months after the scabs have fallen off.²

Scabs caused by shingles usually fall off after two to four weeks. The length of time it takes for your rash to clear up completely may vary from person to person. It is determined by several variables, including its intensity and how quickly you seek treatment.

How to care for shingles scabs

At-home care

Scarring and other issues can be avoided if shingles scabs are adequately treated. The formation of scabs on blisters signifies that the shingles outbreak is healing. Skincare is still essential. You should take care not to scratch or pick at your scabs while they are healing.

Until the blisters have completely healed and formed scabs, it is possible that you may continue to get new ones for another week. 

When shingles scabs are not falling off, it's crucial to maintain skin protection even while the wound heals. It is still possible to spread shingles until all blisters have crusted over. As a precaution, you should avoid newborns, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.

Below are some home-care tips for shingles and what to put on shingles once they scab.

Applying lidocaine or capsaicin

It's possible to have stronger lidocaine or capsaicin patches prescribed by a doctor if you find that over-the-counter options aren't doing the trick. Lidocaine and capsaicin, included in topical creams, can inhibit the transmission of pain signals from the skin to the nerves.

Avoid wearing tight clothing

The feeling of comfort increases with the space between your skin and the fabric; therefore, looser-fitting clothes are preferable.

Oatmeal baths

Oatmeal's anti-inflammatory characteristics also make it helpful in soothing the agony of shingles scabs in a cold oatmeal bath.

Cover the shingles scabs

When feasible, covering your shingles scabs with bandages can help alleviate the discomfort produced by the scabs being touched by clothing and other objects. Bandages that won't cling to your rash are a must. However, before covering, you should check with your doctor since the blister stripe is too large.

Compress the scabs with a cold cloth

In some instances, the scabs caused by shingles can burst open and discharge pus or other fluids. Itchy or otherwise unpleasant skin may result. Applying a cold, wet towel to the blisters should help alleviate the pain. Likewise, this helps reduce the likelihood of contracting an illness.

Only keep the compress on your skin for no more than 20 minutes at a time. It's also important to remember that you shouldn't use a compress on top of patches, treatment lotion, or bandages.

Treatment

A shorter course of infection and fewer consequences are feasible with prompt treatment. Your doctor may recommend oral gabapentin or pregabalin to alleviate the discomfort and hypersensitivity of the shingles scabs. 

Within 72 hours after seeing a shingles outbreak, seek medical attention. The sooner shingles are diagnosed, the sooner treatment may begin.

Scabs left behind by shingles can be soothed by a cold bath or by using cool, moist compresses. 

Vaccination and prevention

Shingrix is currently the only authorized vaccine by the FDA against shingles after Zostavax was discontinued in November 2020. Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to prevent getting shingles. If you are 60 or older, you should receive the shingles vaccination.

Maintaining a clean, covered rash site after a case of shingles will also help stop the virus from spreading. Wash your hands often and limit the time you spend touching the blisters.

The lowdown

Scabs caused by shingles usually disappear after three to four weeks. Pain and distress, however, may last longer. Painful blisters form on top of a sensitive rash caused by shingles. When these blisters finally heal, they will turn into scabs. Scabs caused by shingles are often dry and flat.

To keep your scabs from becoming infected, you should refrain from scratching them and wearing restrictive clothes. Oatmeal baths and topical lidocaine and capsaicin creams may help relieve pain. Consult a doctor immediately if your scabs worsen or don't heal.

  1. About shingles (Herpes zoster) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  2. Complications of shingles | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Other sources:

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