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Caring for Shingles

How to care for a Patient with Shingles


If you are helping to care for someone with shingles and particularly if they are elderly, then here are some ideas to make life more comfortable for them:

  • As soon as the rash appears and has been diagnosed as shingles, start treatment. If treatment can be commenced within two or three days of the outbreak, the shingles will be less severe and there is less chance of the patient going on to suffer from postherpetic neuralgia.
  • You cannot catch shingles by touching the sore skin or the bed or chair where the person has been lying or sitting so if wearing less clothing will make the patient more comfortable then encourage this. Some people with shingles are very sensitive to touch so try to touch only the side of the body that does not have the rash.
  • You can catch chicken pox from a person with shingles blisters so keep anyone who has never had chicken pox away from the patient.  (This particularly applies to pregnant women where there is a danger to the unborn fetus).
  • Relieve any discomfort with cool compresses unless your patient finds it makes the pain worse. 
  • Look for ways to relieve the stress of the pain for your patient such as meditation or listening to soothing music.
  • Make sure your patient has a pain reliever if necessary and you may need a prescription for something to help insomnia if this is a problem. In some cases, the pain can be very severe and with such pain, it is hard to find a comfortable position whether sitting, lying down or walking around.  Your patient needs as much sleep as possible.
  • Constant pain can affect your patient’s appetite - try to encourage your patient to eat well (you may need to provide extra tasty treats).
  • Constant pain can also make your patient cross, sad or depressed – this will need extra patience and kindness on your part.


Most cases of shingles outbreaks are over in about a month so with your care and attention, your patient’s life (as well as your own) can get back to normal in that time. Within one year of the rash, the majority of people will have very little or no pain at all.

The New Vaccine for Shingles and how it could help

In May 2006, the United States Food and Drug Administration registered a new vaccine which could prevent half of all the elderly (those people sixty years and older) from developing shingles and herpes zoster. This vaccine is not designed to prevent new infections of shingles but rather to prevent the re-emergence of an infection.  The FDA is confident that this vaccine will have a significant impact on what is a growing and painful disease in an increasingly aging population.

This new vaccine would help by boosting an older person’s immunity against the virus, thereby preventing the virus from emerging from its dormant state in the nervous system and causing shingles. The vaccine would not be recommended for those people whose immune systems had already been compromised such as those living with HIV/Aids or patients receiving immunosuppressant therapy.  Unfortunately, it would not be of help to those people who had already had an outbreak of shingles or who were presently suffering from shingles.

According to the Department of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Centre, the vaccine has been tested for ten years and shows a reduction in the incidence of shingles by fifty per cent. Since shingles affects millions of people each year, they feel the vaccine could offer a significant benefit.

The Nerve Injury Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital add their approval to the introduction of the vaccine by saying that it is a terrific advance, with major implications in preventing a serious, common, chronic pain condition. They feel the benefits are potentially enormous not only in lessening illness from shingles but also in preventing postherpetic neuralgia.