Corticosteroids for shingles
How It Works
Corticosteroids can be taken by mouth (orally) or given by injection.
Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and severe pain, and they control itching. They also suppress the immune system, which may contribute to the development of complications of shingles, such as infections. Corticosteroids are sometimes used together with an antiviral medicine to treat shingles.
Corticosteroid injections may be combined with other treatment, such as an anti-inflammatory drug (for example, ibuprofen), to reduce pain from postherpetic neuralgia.
Corticosteroid injections must be given in a hospital setting by trained health professionals.
Why It Is Used
Corticosteroids may be helpful for treating shingles in people who:
- Have severe pain.
- Are older than 50.
- Have shingles that affects the eye or face.
How Well It Works
The benefit of corticosteroids for reducing pain from shingles or preventing postherpetic neuralgia has not been proved.1
One study reports that an injection with methylprednisolone decreased the intensity and area of pain of postherpetic neuralgia better than treatment with topical anesthetics such as lidocaine.2 But this appears to be a short-term benefit. Also, corticosteroids may cause shingles to spread in the skin.1 And there is a risk for serious side effects, such as meningitis.
Side effects may include:
- Skin rash.
- Blurred vision.
- Increased urination.
- Unusual thirst.
- Mood changes.
- Increased appetite and restlessness.
- Weight gain.
- Increased risk for infection.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
The earlier corticosteroids are used to help treat shingles, the more likely they will reduce pain and speed healing. Corticosteroids may be used when shingles affects the face or early in the course of the illness in people younger than 50.
Although corticosteroids may offer short-term relief from the pain of postherpetic neuralgia, the pain usually returns. Also, corticosteroids may trigger the spread of shingles in the skin.1
Before you take corticosteroids or any other medicine, talk with your doctor about your health conditions.
Last Updated: March 9, 2009