How to Treat Shingles Blisters

By Dennis Thompson Jr.

Medically reviewed By Cynthia Haines, MD

With shingles come shingles blisters. These red, fluid-filled lesions can be very itchy and painful, but there are medications to help ease the suffering.


One of the most striking aspects of an acute shingles attack is the rash that accompanies the disease. Indeed, most doctors can diagnose shingles based on the rash alone, because it develops in a very specific pattern. Shingles blisters are a part of that pattern.

Shingles occurs due to the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster. Following a case of chickenpox, the virus migrates into the nerve tissues, where it can remain dormant for decades. Once it wakes up, the virus travels back up the nerve fibers into the skin, where it creates a rash that includes shingles blisters. About 20 percent of people who have had chickenpox will have a shingles attack at some point in their lives.

First Pain, Then A Rashy Eruption

The first symptoms of shingles may involve skin sensations such as burning, itching, or tingling. The skin may become incredibly sensitive. People have reported feeling pain or numbness in nerves under their skin or shooting pains that run around the trunk of the body or down the arms or legs. In this pre-rash stage, it's also common for people to have flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and upset stomach.

Location of Shingles Blisters

These skin sensations usually occur in one particular location on the body and only on one side of the body. After one to three days, a rash will typically appear where the sensations were occurring. Shingles rashes most often appear on the trunk and buttocks, but can spread up to the face or down the arms or legs.

The rash starts out with red and blotchy lesions that soon erupt into waves of small, fluid-filled blisters that start to appear over the next three to five days. The blisters differ from those of chickenpox in that they tend to cluster in one area rather than spread across the body.

How Shingles Blisters Appear and Feel

The fluid in shingles blisters begins clear, but the blisters soon grow white, yellow, or bloody as the white blood cells of the body's immune system begin to attack the varicella zoster virus. Shingles blisters eventually erupt, leaving open sores that crust over within a week or two. The crusty scabs normally fall off after over the next two to three weeks.

Shingles blisters tend to itch, ache, and burn. Burning sensations often are accompanied by shooting pains. Patients should avoid scratching the blisters, despite the terrible itch. Scratching can lead to a bacterial infection of the skin, most often by staphylococci or streptococci.

Shingles Medication and Treatment

Antiviral medications are the leading treatment for shingles, but this type of shingles medication does not directly affect shingles blisters or help soothe itching or pain. Instead, this shingles medication directly attacks the varicella zoster virus, inhibiting its growth and potentially reducing the severity and duration of the rash. The prescription antiviral drugs commonly used as shingles medication are Zovirax (acyclovir), Famvir (famciclovir), and Valtrex (valacyclovir).

Over-the-counter shingles medications that can help you deal with blisters include:

  • NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce inflammation and swelling of shingles blisters and rashes. Types of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium.
  • Calamine lotion. This lotion, smoothly applied to shingles blisters, can reduce itching and burning sensations.
  • Cool compresses. Cool cloths placed on blisters also tend to soothe symptoms. You can use cool water or astringent liquids such as Bluboro or Domeboro.
  • Topical antibiotic ointments. If you've scratched your shingles blisters, you should apply an antibiotic ointment to make sure they don't become infected.

If you’re living with shingles and shingles blisters, talk to your doctor about the treatments that are best for you and any side effect they may have.