Caregiving for Someone With Shingles

How much and what type of supportive care a loved one with shingles will need can vary widely from case to case.

Depending on the severity of symptoms, individuals might need to rely on a trusted caregiver for help with a wide range of tasks, including following their treatment plan, managing symptoms, reducing stress, and seeking social support.

Medical Support 

Based on the circumstances and severity of disease, your work as a caregiver might begin even before your loved one is diagnosed with shingles and continue until long after the rash disappears.

Doctors Visits and Medications 

Shingles medications are often more effective when given as early as possible, so prompt treatment can make a big difference in how severe symptoms get and how long they last. This makes an early diagnosis crucial to keeping discomfort to a minimum.

If your loved one has a rash and is feeling sick, encourage them to see their doctor right away. Depending on how much pain your loved one is experiencing, you might even want to make the appointment on their behalf (with their permission) and drive them to the doctor's office if needed in order to provide support during that initial and subsequent visits.

Once shingles has been diagnosed and a treatment plan established, your loved one might then need assistance in picking up prescriptions and keeping track of medication doses. Some antivirals used to treat shingles can require multiple doses a day (in some cases up to three to five), and are sometimes accompanied by prescription painkillers that must be monitored closely to prevent overdose or physical dependence—all of which can be tough to juggle when you're in a lot of pain or experiencing fatigue. Organizing prescriptions and reminding your loved one to take the right medication at the right time and at the right dosage can be one of the most important roles you have as a caregiver.  

If your loved one has concerns about their signs or symptoms, medication side effects, or treatment plan, you can also encourage them to direct those questions to their doctor.

Shingles Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Symptom Management 

In addition to medication management, helping to alleviate symptoms caused by shingles—itching, pain, or sensitivity, for example—can be an important job for caregivers.

Calm itchiness by preparing colloidal oatmeal baths or spreading calamine lotion on the affected area, and soothe pain with cold compresses (made from cloths held under cool water) or over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or Tylenol.

Tips for relieving shingles symptoms
 Verywell / Jessica OlahOwner

Infection Control 

While you can't "catch" shingles, someone with the disease can spread the virus that causes it—varicella-zoster—to other people, and secondary skin infections in people who have shingles can happen if precautions aren't taken.

Some steps you can take as a caregiver to reduce the risk of spreading or acquiring infections include:

  • Cleaning the rash or blisters and covering them with a dry, non-stick bandage
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Laundering any clothing or linens that touch your loved one's rash in hot water
  • Discarding used bandages safely and immediately

Scratching the rash can also risk spreading the virus and/or opening up the skin to a new infection—which is why it's so important for caregivers to help keep the area covered, soothe itching, and reduce the temptation to scratch by distracting your loved one with engaging activities, tasks, or conversation.

Stress Relief 

Stress and pain are intertwined—when one increases, the other does, too. Breaking that cycle is essential to keeping your loved one as comfortable as possible while recovering from shingles and help facilitate the healing process.

What works to lower stress levels might vary from person to person, but there are a number of things that you as a caregiver can do to assist a tense loved one from getting too stressed out by their experience. 

  • Turn on calming music during the day to help provide a relaxing atmosphere.
  • Invite them to go for a walk or lead them in some light exercise like yoga.
  • Educate yourself on meditation techniques, and walk your loved one through the process.
  • Encourage napping when energy levels appear to be getting low, and try to limit screen time and other distractions around bedtime.
  • Engage in an activity or hobby that your loved one enjoys, such as crafting or building things, playing board games, watching TV shows, or reading aloud.

Personal Assistance 

Those with shingles might not be able to do routine life maintenance tasks while they're recovering. If that's the case, a little help around the home or managing paperwork can go a long way to allowing your loved to focus on getting better. Some ways you can help with these personal tasks:

  • Go grocery shopping and do other outside errands so that your loved one can stay home and rest.
  • Prepare healthy, well-balanced meals that can be eaten right away or stored in the fridge or freezer for easy reheating.
  • Lend a hand around the house by straightening up, doing dishes, and disinfecting surfaces.
  • Help with bathing, dressing, or personal grooming if the pain is too great for the individual to do it themselves.
  • Juggle paperwork, such as sorting mail, paying bills, conducting correspondence, or (if necessary) assist in completing and submitting any paperwork needed by your loved one's insurance company or employer.

Social Support 

Social interactions can impact your quality of life and even affect your risk of getting certain medical conditions. Maintaining a strong social support system while recovering from shingles is a part of the healing process, and you as a caregiver can play an important role.

  • Invite your loved one to talk about what they're going through and how you can best support them physically and emotionally.
  • If your loved one is up for company, arrange for visits by family or friends. Monitor the situation, and if it gets to be too overwhelming or your loved one appears to get fatigued during the visit, take charge by kindly asking the guests to leave.
  • Encourage them to engage with an online support group for those with shingles, though be careful to remind them to direct any medical questions to their doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you catch shingles from someone?

No, but you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven't had chickenpox before or if you haven't been vaccinated. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. If you haven't had chickenpox or the vaccine or have a weak immune system, you should stay away from anyone with shingles until their rash has scabbed over.

How long can someone who has shingles spread the virus?

The shingles rash usually crusts over in about 10 days. After that, it's no longer able to spread the virus that causes chickenpox.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating shingles. Updated July 1, 2019.

  2. NIH National Institute on Aging. Shingles. Updated October 29, 2018.

  3. American Psychological Association. Manage stress: Strengthen your support network

  4. National Institute on Aging. Shingles. Updated February 1, 2021.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles: Transmission. Updated July 1, 2019.