One of the most common questions we get from people is whether or not valacyclovir (Valtrex) is used for shingles. Shingles is a common viral infection that affects around one in every three people at some point in life, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shingles is caused by a herpes virus—in this case, the varicella-zoster virus, or VZV. In children and teens, VZV is commonly associated with chickenpox. In adults, the virus can reactivate and cause painful, outbreaks of shingles that can last for several weeks.
Because shingles is a herpes virus, it can be treated using the same medication as other types of herpes, such as HSV-1 or HSV-2. This means that medications such as valacyclovir (Valtrex) are effective in treating shingles and commonly prescribed by doctors. The short answer to "Is valacyclovir (Valtrex) used for shingles?" is "Yes." But there's more to it than that.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. After you have chickenpox, this virus remains in your body in an inactive state. The varicella-zoster virus stays dormant in most people for life, but it can occasionally reactivate from nerve tissue in the brain and spinal cord.
When this happens, you can experience an outbreak of shingles. Shingles outbreaks tend to be limited to a small area of your body, such as the chest or torso. Most people only notice shingles symptoms on one side of their body.
Shingles is a painful, unpleasant condition that can result in a burning sensation on the affected skin, as well as a painful red rash and fluid-filled sores. Skin that’s affected by shingles can often become itchy and uncomfortable, making the condition difficult to manage.
Most people also experience significant pain during a shingles outbreak—pain that isn’t limited to the areas of skin affected by the blisters. Sometimes, shingles only produces internal pain but no skin rash, leading many people to mistake it for other health issues.
If You Think You Have Shingles, See Your Doctor
Shingles is a serious condition that can last for several weeks, making it important that you see a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you’re experiencing a reactivation of the VZV virus. Luckily, shingles treatment is simple and can be remedied with medications like valacyclovir.
Your doctor will be able to provide advice and assistance to help you treat and recover from the shingles infection. Most of the time, shingles treatment involves prescribing valacyclovir in combination with pain relievers to control the virus’s physical symptoms. Luckily, valacyclovir starts working on the virus almost immediately to help your body fight it off quickly. However, keep in mind that like other forms of herpes, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The earlier you start attacking it, the better.
It’s especially important to see a doctor if you feel pain or see a rash forming near your eyes, as untreated shingles infections can cause permanent, significant damage to your vision if allowed to develop without treatment.
It’s also particularly important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you’re aged 60 or above, as serious complications from shingles become more likely as you age. People above 60 and older should also consider a zoster vaccine, which can reduce the risk of shingles infection.
Finally, you should act as quickly as possible if you have any condition that could weaken your immune system, such as a chronic illness. People with compromised immune systems have a greater risk of developing disseminated shingles, a potentially lethal form of shingles rash that can damage the skin, liver, brain and other organs.
If you want to learn more about using valacyclovir to treat shingles or other forms of herpes—including valacyclovir side effects, dosage levels and available options, check out our Valacyclovir 101 guide.