Shingles (herpes zoster) is a condition caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which first enters the body when a person contracts chickenpox. In the United States, one in every three people develops shingles in their lifetime.¹
The most common symptom of shingles is a band-like painful rash on one side of the body. It usually goes away in about two to four weeks. During this time, it’s easy to make the rash worse and increase the chances of complications.
Let’s take a closer look at what not to do when you have shingles.
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Shingles is a virus that affects your nerve fibers and causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including:
Itchy skin and painful rash
Small fluid-filled blisters
The rash usually appears as a band that wraps one side of your body, commonly at the waistline. However, it can also appear anywhere on the body, including the face, eyes, and genitals.
If not addressed on time, shingles may lead to severe complications, including brain inflammation (rare), bacterial infection, and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
PHN is the most common consequence of shingles. Its symptoms are pain and discomfort in the area where the rash used to be. The condition occurs because nerve endings send wrong messages to your brain.
While there isn’t a cure for the herpes zoster virus, doctors can recommend numerous treatment methods to stop the virus’s replication and alleviate the symptoms.
Following the doctor’s recommendations can improve your quality of life until the shingles subsides. However, there are some things you may unwittingly do that can worsen the condition.
Below are things you should avoid doing while you have shingles.
If the rash is still fresh and the blisters haven’t scabbed over, you need to avoid direct contact with other people who are at risk. While shingles is not contagious, you can still pass the virus to another person who has never had chickenpox or has never been vaccinated against it.
An open fluid-filled blister is a source of the infection. If your blisters accidentally break during certain activities (such as swimming in a public pool), you could pass the disease to another person. A person who has never had chickenpox or received a vaccine can contract the varicella-zoster virus from someone who has shingles.
You should also avoid sharing towels, blankets, and clothes with others.
You need to get enough rest to help your body battle this viral illness and speed up recovery.
If the rash is on your face, take time off work and stay home until the blisters scab over. This can take around seven days. After that, you can start returning to normal activities.
However, if shingles is on the area of your body that you can cover, you can return to work once you feel better.
Shingles is painful to the touch. If you put on tight clothing, you can experience significant discomfort. Meanwhile, tight clothing could also increase the risk of breaking the fluid-filled blisters and turn them into a gateway for infection.
Synthetic clothing isn’t a good idea since sweat could worsen the rash. The material you put over the rash should be breathable. Wear loose cotton clothing to create favorable conditions for the rash to heal.
When you have shingles, your skin may feel itchy. Some people can’t handle the sensation and start scratching. If you accidentally scratch the blisters, you can break them open and make them susceptible to infections.
To avoid scratching, ask your doctor to recommend soothing ointments. One topical remedy that works well is calamine lotion.
Just like any other virus, shingles takes a toll on your immune system. To help it recover quickly, you need to stick to a healthy diet. Besides eating a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables while avoiding highly processed foods, you need to exclude the following products:
High glycemic carbs—Candies, baked goods, white bread, and similar products can promote inflammation
Alcohol—Alcohol can suppress your immune system and slow down the recovery process
Foods with arginine—Arginine is an amino acid that may encourage replication of the varicella-zoster virus; it is in nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products, canned tuna, oats, and tomatoes
Since healthy foods also contain arginine, you can’t avoid it altogether. However, you shouldn’t include large amounts in your meals.
While the doctor will prescribe medication to alleviate the shingles symptoms, they may not always work. To improve your quality of life, you could try a few at-home remedies:
Cold compress—Soak a towel in cool water and press it gently against the rash
Oatmeal bath—Add the oatmeal powder to your warm water bath and soak there for about 10 to 15 minutes
Ask your doctor about other home remedies, such as essential oils or witch hazel. Remember, plant extracts may cause allergic reactions. So, you need to spot-test them before using them.
Speak to your doctor as soon as you notice the first symptoms of shingles. They are likely to prescribe antiviral medication that works best when taken within 72 hours of the outbreak. They can also advise on symptomatic therapy.
Shingles is a painful condition that causes a lot of discomfort. However, it’s possible to alleviate the symptoms while waiting for the condition to subside. To allow your rash to heal quickly, avoid wearing tight clothes, eating unhealthy foods, or scratching the rash.
Try to stay at home until the rash scabs over. Otherwise, you may pass on the shingles virus to another person.
Speak to your doctor as soon as you experience the first shingles symptoms. They may prescribe antiviral medication and give valuable advice about symptom relief.
Yes. You need to give your body enough rest and nutrition while you have shingles.
You can be around your family when you have shingles. However, you need to take precautions. Don’t come in close contact with family members, and avoid sharing towels and clothes.
Hot water in the shower can worsen your rash. Meanwhile, prolonged sun exposure can also hurt delicate and vulnerable skin in the rash area. Sunlight can also trigger a shingles outbreak.
Shingles (herpes zoster) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Shingles: Overview (2006)
Shingles | NIH: National Institute on Aging
Complications of shingles | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Shingles | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Working with shingles | Health Assured
Calamine lotion (2022)
Understanding alcohol and our immune system | Alcohol and Drug Foundation
What is shingles? | Elite Medical Center
7 things to know about the shingles virus | Wexner Medical Center