Q. Three weeks after a shingles attack I was suffering excruciating nerve pain across the right side of my scalp and behind my ear. Acetaminophen with codeine was not working.
One morning at 3 am I finally turned on the light, grabbed my laptop and searched for websites that might offer alternative remedies for pain relief. At PeoplesPharmacy.com I discovered that several people recommended applying amber Listerine mouthwash directly to the affected areas.
I was skeptical but desperate, so I went to the bathroom, soaked my washcloth in Listerine and rubbed it gently into my scalp. Wow! Within three minutes I felt relief and for the first time in weeks I slept with the right side of my head on the pillow. It was wonderful to feel pain free, even for a few hours.

A. Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir or valaciclovir can speed healing if taken at the first sign of shingles (a painful rash or blisters on one side of the body). The pain can be excruciating and may last a long time.
Some readers report temporary relief with topical Listerine and others say that oral L-lysine aids recovery. For those wishing to avoid shingles and the risk of lingering pain, a shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is available.

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  1. Kelly

    My husband has had several shingles outbreaks, usually on the torso. He has not had the vaccine. He has found that a day at the beach helps reduce the severity of the rashes pain and itching; indeed it usually clears up within a week or so of the saltwater immersion.
    Simple exposure to the sun doesn’t seem to make a difference (though it does clear up my acne). He needs to spend a few hours in the ocean surf.
    Maybe this cheap and easy fix can help someone else.

  2. Jane

    The vaccine I got after I had my first case of shingles, and I have had it four times since. It did not work for me.

  3. mary

    Thank you Mary for the L-lysine reminder first and also for alerting to the existence of L-lysine cream. Must find soon as cold sores are too frequent.
    At this time I use my Mom’s help of dissolving an aspirin and coating the cold sore. This dries it up, sometimes to much if not careful. After that I use Vicks or Zinc oxide.

  4. Mary

    I am not the Mary who wrote above comment. However, I still recommend to “take L-Lysine 2000 mg” 30 min before breakfast and supper if you have Shingles and in pain. I have had the Shingles and am continuing to take L-Lysine. I have no pain but I do continue to get fever blisters on my lips. Fortunately, I noticed L-Lysine ointment in the catalog when ordering L-Lysine tablets. Having ordered the ointment, I use it which heals the blister quickly with NO pain.

  5. mary

    B A L- I am sorry to hear this. I have had shingles but not to the extent of people posting here. My Mother and a friend had them severely, caused me to ask my Doctor for the Shingles shot. [especially post about the eyes and reading there could be PERMANENT nerve damage]. However my doc told me: Most people he sees with shingles have had the shot.
    Am as confused as ever, have not gotten the shot–now your post and comment by my doctor the reasons.
    But I will be keeping these postings for help in the awful event I get them again. Hope you are better and it turns out to be worth getting the shot.

  6. B A L

    Having turned 60, my doctor gave me the shingles vaccine. Two days later, my arm was sore and hot. When I looked in the mirror, there was a 6″ long welt that had a 2″ nasty red circle around the injection site. It was itchy, hot and actually a little painful.
    I called the doctor and she wanted to see me right away. She said she’s never seen a reaction this bad and recommended ice packs and ibuprofen, and benedryl if necessary. The ice packs and ibuprofen have helped.
    I’ve seen my husband and dad go through shingles and they were both in so much pain, especially my dad and really don’t want to get this horrible disease!

  7. Jim D

    I got the shingles in and above my right eye. The rash was minimal after 3 weeks but the severe pain and itching were only beginning. My doctor prescribed Gabapentin but it made me very sick. Then a doctor suggested using Icy Cold (or the pricier Icy Hot) analgesic gel and it really helped relieve the pain and itching. I am still using it after six weeks and it has been very effective. I am hesitant to try any more prescriptions because I also had a bad reaction to the initial antiviral drug Valacyclovir and had to switch to a different antiviral drug. So for now, I am relying on Icy Cold gel and praying the discomfort will stop soon. Good luck to fellow sufferers and I hope the gel helps you too.
    P.S. Initially, my right eye swelled shut and I was referred to an Ophthalmologist who was very helpful and informative. He insisted on examining my right eye every four days for three weeks and prescribed three different eye drops. He said I could have had serious vision problems from the virus in my eye.

  8. DKH

    My husband has CLL. If I got shingles would he get it too? His Doctor has recommended he not get the vaccine.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Shingles are not considered catching in that manner. If he had chickenpox as a child, he could get shingles. If you broke out in shingles and he’d never had chickenpox, he could catch them from you.

  9. J A C

    African Shea Butter applied to the affected area cleared relieved pain IMMEDIATELY and cleared up the area overnight. Applied for at least three days to be sure. Have not had a problem since. Worked for me, hopefully will work for someone else!

  10. G Brown

    I was diagnosed with shingles several years ago (second time). I took B-1, Zinc and L-lysine and treated the external bumps with Tea Tree Oil. Unlike the first time, I never had any pain and the rash disappeared within 2 days. This 3 supplement combination is also very effective, if taken soon enough in heading off sinus infections, colds and flu.

  11. don't understand

    Will a capsaizan cream for PHN be effective if used regularly?
    I got a recipe for making one from the internet (canola oil and red pepper powder) and do not feel heat when I apply it. Do you think I should keep adding red pepper until I feel some heat on my skin?

  12. mary f c

    To NLC…..I also had shingles in my eye and on my head. I took L-Lysine for 2 mo. with no pain then quit this essential amino acid (protein). Upon stopping it I got pain in my head & started the Lysine again. It has been 4 yrs. I recently visited my doctor who suggested that I get the shingles shot.
    I already knew that the residual original pain on my head was PHN, Pheripheral Herpatic Neuralgia. My doctor recently suggested that I get the shingles shot. I did and the redness and soreness has slowly resided. I intend to stay on my regime of L-Lysine. My doctor had suggested a nutritionist I am glad that he helped me greatly. I empathize with the eye.

  13. ehc

    I received the shingles shot some four to five years ago; despite that I had a case of shingles a few weeks ago and after a week of valciclovir (sp?) it lessened and within a couple of weeks was completely gone. No pain was involved, luckily!!

  14. NLC

    If you get shingles, go to the doctor. It took me awhile, but I finally got two “itch” pills, I call them. One is Hydroxyzine that stops the itch and the other is Gabapentin that stops those nerve endings from “jangling”. I have had shingles for 19 months and without these, I might have jumped off a bridge. Mine was across my head and in my eye.
    I had tried all the ideas given on the internet and nothing worked for me. I just had a shot and they said it cut my chances to have a bad episode with new shingles, but does not prevent them. But if you get them in you eye . . . go to the eye doctor immediately or lose your eyesight.

  15. char

    Do you ‘recommend’ the shingles shot?
    My Doctor says he regularly sees people with shingles who have gotten the shot.

    • Ralph
      New Jersey

      The shingles vaccination shot is only about 50-60% effective, my doctor tells me. But still, it cuts in half your chances of catching this nasty virus, and if you do get it, vaccination tends to lessen the severity of it. So, while it’s not a slam dunk solution, get the vaccine, but don’t be surprised if you wind up with a case of shingles. It is contagious and is harmful to pregnant women, so if you get it, treat it as you would a herpes outbreak and protect others from any possibility of contact — it is a serious virus that can really do a number on your health. Most important is at the very first sign of the welts breaking out, get to a doctor and start the anti-viral meds. Quick response may save you from a worse infection and speed recovery.

  16. MHM

    Is the shingles vaccine safe to take? Any side effects to watch out for?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: According to the studies, the shingles vaccine is fairly safe and reduces (but does NOT eliminate) the chance of coming down with shingles. It can cause local reactions, like soreness, redness or itching at the injection site.

  17. char

    Heard much about necessity of shingles vaccine.
    However my Doc says he regularly treats people for shingles who have HAD the shot. I have had shingles, I routinely get ‘cold sores’. My main concern is reading that shingles could leave permanent nerve damage.
    Is this correct? I would like this to not be true, and try to figure out if should have the vaccine or not.
    Thank you once again!

  18. DMG

    I have the problem of waking at night with my scalp itching so badly I scratch with both hands and make my scalp sore. In desperation one night, I used the amber Listerine and cotton makeup squares and dabbed at my scalp. The itching went away, and I went back to sleep. Bliss!

  19. ROBERTA S.

    A friend of mine tried the Listerine treatment for her shingles this past weekend. She said she thought she was on fire… so beware it does not work for everyone. Unfortunately she put it on her entire rash area. I would suggest trying a “very” small section to see if you are one of the unlucky ones that this remedy will “not” work.

  20. Karen K.

    I have gotten shingles running up my sciatic nerve for the last 30 yrs. it started behind my knee and has run to the top of my buttocks over the years. Putting honey on the shingles immediately gives you relief. It stops pain and itching. I don’t know how I would have made it through this without the honey.

  21. kfs

    When I asked my doctor about getting a shingles vaccine since I am 62 and several members of my family have had shingles in the past, he said that the shingles vaccine is a live vaccine. Since I have an autoimmune disease, he said that I should not get the shingles vaccine. I did get the flu and pneumonia vaccines though. When you recommend that people get the shingles vaccine, you may want to make them aware that all people cannot get this vaccine to prevent shingles.

  22. s.h.

    Try applying Vick’s vaporub at the first sign of shingles. It contains the same type ingredients in the original gold/amber listerine. (without the alcohol).
    I have a friend whose doctor recommended Vick’s at her first sign of shingles breakout. It worked.

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