Does alcohol make shingles worse

Does alcohol make shingles worse DEFAULT

Shingles treatment: Does alcohol use affect therapy?

Answer Section

Generally, it's best to avoid alcohol during shingles treatment.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. An episode of shingles usually heals on its own within a few weeks. However, immediate shingles treatment — often including an antiviral drug, such as acyclovir (Zovirax, Sitavig), famciclovir or valacyclovir (Valtrex) — can reduce pain, speed healing and reduce the risk of complications.

Although alcohol warnings aren't specifically listed in the product labels for the antiviral drugs most often used to treat shingles, it's usually best to avoid mixing alcohol and medication. Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of certain medications, as well as increase the risk of side effects, such as dizziness, especially in older adults.

Last Updated: July 22nd, 2021

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Listerine continues to ease shingles pain

Q: About 30 years ago, I got shingles from my hip to my knee. A doctor told me to get a bottle of original Listerine and rub it on often. It took about a week or two, but the Listerine got rid of that terrible pain. I didn’t develop blisters.

A: Shingles is a painful rash that may occur many years after a person suffers chickenpox. This infection is caused by a herpes virus called varicella zoster. Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, famciclovir or valacyclovir may speed healing if taken early enough.

Sixteen years ago, another reader shared a similar story: “What is the miracle of Listerine? Twenty years ago I got shingles. I had a blistery rash, and it really hurt.

“My doctor told me to keep rubbing Listerine on it. The itching stopped, the rash disappeared and the pain went away for good.”

We have no idea why Listerine might be helpful against shingles pain. We could find no research in the medical literature, though some doctors seem to know about this home remedy.

If you find such quirky approaches intriguing, you may be interested in our book “The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.” Look for it in your library or at

Q: I often see suggestions that certain foods could be effective against dementia. Are there any studies with results on this?

A: There is in fact some scientific data that supports a produce-rich diet to reduce dementia risk. One of the most recent was published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 22, 2020). The scientists used data from a very long-running study, the Framingham Offspring Cohort. People who consumed diets with the most plant compounds called flavonoids had the lowest risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Where do you find flavonoids? Fruits and vegetables are the best sources. Americans get a lot of their flavonoids from apples, pears and oranges. Tea and cocoa are also good sources, along with blueberries, strawberries and red wine (in moderation).

Diets with lots of vegetables and fruits and very little processed food have also done well in studies of heart disease. You might recognize this as the backbone of a Mediterranean diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) regimen. Both have been the subject of randomized controlled trials. So far as we can tell, both your heart and your brain will benefit if you fill your plate with colorful berries, fruits and veggies.

Q: I recently read your article about hangovers. I’ll bet you were flooded with hangover remedies. My favorite is Gatorade. Drink it after you stop drinking alcohol (before going to bed). If you are too out of it to remember to do that, drink a bottle when you wake up. I hear that Pedialyte works the same way. Of course, nothing works quite like moderation.

A: Your last suggestion is stellar. Gatorade and Pedialyte both would provide electrolytes, but a study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health (April 30, 2020) reported that dehydration and electrolyte depletion did not appear to contribute substantially to hangover symptoms. The authors found that a solution containing extracts of ginger root, Ginkgo biloba, willow, prickly pear fruit and acerola berry was helpful, however.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.” (c) 2020 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. 

If you had chickenpox as a kid, there is a good chance you may develop shingles later in life. “In fact, one in three is predicted to get shingles during their lifetime,” says Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, director of the Nerve Unit at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

The same varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox also causes shingles. After the telltale spots of chickenpox vanish, the virus lies dormant in your nerve cells near the spinal cord and brain. When your immunity weakens from normal aging or from illnesses or medications, the virus can re-emerge. It then travels along a nerve to trigger a rash in the skin connected to that nerve. The rash often appears on only one side of your body. The most common locations are the chest, back, or stomach, or above one eye.

Most cases of shingles cause severe pain and itching, and can leave scars. Fluid-filled blisters develop, break, and crust over during and a few weeks after an outbreak. You also may feel sick or fatigued, with a slight fever or headache. However, it is possible to have rashes that are so mild they’re not even noticed.

Seek treatment right away

Many people have the mistaken impression that, like poison ivy, shingles is a nuisance rash that fades on its own. “But in fact a shingles rash should alert people, especially in middle or old age, to seek immediate medical help,” says Dr. Oaklander.

Rapid treatment with one of three antiviral drugs, acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir), can shorten a shingles attack and reduce the risk of serious damage, such as:

  • Long-term pain. Pain that lingers in the area of a healed shingles rash is called postherpetic neuralgia. This often-disabling pain can last several months to a year.
  • Prolonged itching. Many people are left with an itchy area from their shingles, which can be as disabling as chronic pain. It is most common on the head or neck.
  • Damage to vision and hearing. Pain and rash near an eye can cause permanent eye damage and requires an urgent ophthalmological exam. When the nerve to the ear is affected, it can permanently damage hearing or balance.
  • Strokes and heart attacks. A PLOS Medicinestudy that tracked about 67,000 people ages 65 and older who were newly diagnosed with shingles found that stroke risk more than doubled in the first week after the shingles diagnosis. The same study reported an increased risk for heart attacks in the three months after shingles, but the additional risk dissipated after six months.

Prevent shingles with vaccination

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that almost all people ages 60 and older be vaccinated against shingles, whether or not they had chicken pox in their youth or have had shingles before, says Dr. Oaklander.

The vaccination that prevents chickenpox in children was used to develop a similar vaccine (Zostavax) that protects against shingles. “It reduces the risk of getting shingles by about half, and shingles rashes that still develop are slightly less likely to cause postherpetic pain, or other serious complications,” says Dr. Oaklander.

People with especially weak immune systems, such as those with cancer or anyone undergoing immunosuppressive treatments, should avoid Zostavax since the vaccine contains a weakened form of the live virus. Because Zostavax has only been available since 2006, it is still not yet clear if a single vaccination offers lifelong protection, but at this time, no booster is recommended.

A new shingles vaccine called HZ/su also may be helpful for older adults. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the vaccine was 97.2% effective among those ages 50 and older, and 97.9% effective for those ages 70 and older. And since HZ/su is not made from a live, weakened virus, it is safe to give to people with weak immune systems. This vaccine still needs to undergo further testing before it can be submitted for FDA approval, which may happen as early as this year.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Alcohol and Your Mental Health - What's It All About?

As one of the most common herpes medications, valacyclovir is used safely and effectively by millions of people worldwide. Most people use valacyclovir during periodic herpes outbreaks to control symptoms, or in response to an initial outbreak of HSV-1, HSV-2 or shingles.

Valacyclovir doesn’t cure herpes, but it’s highly effective at treating the symptoms of herpes and speeding up the healing process after an outbreak. As a powerful antiviral drug, it’s also used to treat other viruses, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV).

Like with all medications, it’s important to exercise caution when you’re taking valacyclovir. This is particularly important if you’re using the medication during a herpes or shingles outbreak, at which time you might also experience significant symptoms from the outbreak itself.

herpes medicine that works

Your outbreak is no match against an Rx option.

Do Valacyclovir and Alcohol Go Well Together?

One common valacyclovir-related question is whether or not valacyclovir and alcohol is a safe combination.

Since HSV-1 and HSV-2 outbreaks can occur several times a year, with HSV-2 outbreaks more frequent, it’s likely that you’ll experience some situations in which alcohol is present while taking valacyclovir to treat herpes. That's just a fact of life. 

Unfortunately, valacyclovir side effects can be difficult to manage on their own, and are only exacerbated by extensive alcohol consumption.

Valacyclovir side effects include vomiting, nausea, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea and stomach pain, all of which can potentially worsen if you’re intoxicated. Valacyclovir can also cause drowsiness and mood changes—another side effect that can obviously worsen if you consume alcohol. Drunk texting your ex is brutal, but we'd wager it's even tougher if you do it during a herpes outbreak.

Of these side effects, dizziness and drowsiness are of particular concern. Doctors recommend not to consume alcohol while taking valacyclovir, as the combination of valacyclovir and alcohol can potentially lead to an excessive, dangerous level of dizziness or drowsiness.

Alcohol can also increase the nausea and vomiting side effects that can occur in some people prescribed valacyclovir, making consuming alcohol an unpleasant experience.

Many people prescribed valacyclovir report a reduced tolerance for alcohol while using the drug, meaning that even a small amount of alcohol can potentially lead to some level of intoxication.

Additionally, drinking alcohol, particularly to excess, can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight back against an HSV-1 or HSV-2 outbreak. This could potentially slow down the healing process and reduce many of the benefits of valacyclovir as a herpes treatment.

And if you’re taking valacyclovir for shingles, the best course of action is to avoid alcohol until the infection has healed. Drinking alcohol can significantly slow down the rate at which shingles heals, as well as potentially interfering with pain medications often used in shingles treatment.

So, Is Valacyclovir and Alcohol Safe?

In a nutshell? Unfortunately, no.

Your body's reaction to the medication varies greatly depending on a few things—valacyclovir dosage, your body's immune system, the stage and severity of your outbreak, and what kind of herpes outbreak you're experiencing, to name a few—but as a general rule, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol while you’re taking valacyclovir, especially if you’re using it to treat symptoms and speed up the healing process during a herpes or shingles outbreak.

It's a bummer, but it's the truth.

If you take valacyclovir as part of a daily suppressive herpes therapy treatment, it’s best to talk to your doctor about the safety of consuming alcohol during therapy before drinking wine, beer or other alcohol beverages. If you want to know more about valacyclovir dosage and what you can expect while on the medication, check out our Valacyclovir Dosage guide.


Make does worse alcohol shingles

What Not to Eat if You Have Shingles

Shingles, sometimes called herpes zoster, is the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than of American adults born before 1980 have had chickenpox, but only about 1 in 3 adults develop shingles in their lifetime. The chance for developing shingles increases as you get older.

Shingles typically causes a painful rash on one side of your body or face. The CDC says the rash contains blisters that scab over after .

Avoiding foods that impair your body’s immune system may help you shorten the duration of your shingles outbreak.

Some believe that increasing your intake of the amino acid lysine and decreasing your intake of arginine may also help your body clear the virus faster, though more research is needed.

Keep reading to find out which foods you should avoid eating if you’re having a shingles outbreak.

Foods to avoid with shingles

If you’re experiencing shingles, it’s a good idea to avoid foods that can impair your immune function.

High glycemic carbohydrates

High glycemic carbohydrates quickly break down in your body and create a rapid spike in your blood sugar. Spikes in your blood sugar trigger the release of inflammatory molecules and free radicals, which can stress out your body.

Including too many high glycemic carbohydrates in your diet can potentially compromise your immune system and increase inflammation. Even a can promote increased inflammation.

Some examples of high glycemic foods include:

  • candies and sweets
  • cakes and baked goods
  • sugary drinks
  • sugary cereals
  • sugary sauces
  • ice cream
  • white bread
  • white rice

Highly processed foods

Highly processed foods are often high in salt, added sugars, and omega 6 fatty acids that may trigger inflammation and weaken your immune system.

Omega-6 fatty acids are essential, but most people get an excessive number in their diet. Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, while omega-3 fatty acids inhibit it.

There’s some research that excessively high salt intake may impair your immune system. In a , a group of six men ate:

  • 12 grams of salt for 50 days
  • 9 grams of salt for 50 days
  • 6 grams of salt per day for 50 days
  • 12 grams of salt for the final 30 days

The researchers found that, when the participants ate 12 grams of salt per day, they had higher levels of a type of white blood cell called monocytes in their blood. They also had high levels of IL-23, IL-6 and lower IL-10. Altogether, these markers indicate excessive inflammation and immune response.

Examples of highly processed foods include:

  • sweetened cereals
  • high-fat chips and snack foods
  • sugary energy drinks and sodas
  • cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries
  • high-fat, low-fiber breads and crackers
  • deep-fried foods


Alcohol has the potential to impair almost every aspect of your health, including your immune system.

Most medications used to treat shingles don’t contain specific alcohol warnings. But it’s still a good idea to avoid mixing alcohol and medications as much as possible.

Are there foods that can improve a shingles outbreak?

Nutrient-dense foods, especially foods high in zinc and vitamins A, B12, C, and E, can help support your immune system. Consuming lysine may also help inhibit the virus.


Lysine is an amino acid that’s thought to inhibit the growth of some viruses, including herpes zoster.

Some people think eating a diet high in lysine may help treat shingles and other herpes viruses. At this time, there’s showing that increasing your intake of this amino acid can improve shingles symptoms.

to understand the effects of lysine on shingles.

Foods high in zinc and vitamins A, B12, C, and E

Eating a well-balanced diet can help you prevent nutrient deficiencies that might weaken your immune system.

The following are particularly important for maintaining a healthy immune system:

Here are some good sources for each nutrient.

Complex carbohydrates

Switching simple carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates can potentially help you and improve your overall health.

Complex carbohydrates contain more fiber. And whole grains provide more nutritional value.

Some forms of complex carbohydrates include:

  • whole grain bread
  • brown rice
  • barley
  • quinoa
  • sweet potato
  • whole oats
  • whole grain pasta
  • whole grain couscous

Other home remedies that may help with a shingles outbreak

There’s no cure for shingles. Usually, it’s treated with antiviral medications.

The following home remedies may help you manage symptoms:

  • Cold compress. Soak a cloth or towel in cool water and put it against your rash to help relieve itching and inflammation.
  • Oatmeal bath. An oatmeal bath may help soothe itchy patches and moisturize dry skin. Try mixing 1 cup of oat powder with lukewarm water, and soak in it for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Essential oils. You can try mixing about 15 drops of an essential oil with soothing properties — like chamomile, eucalyptus, or tea tree oil — with 1 tablespoon of a carrier oil — like coconut oil. Then apply it to your skin. Alternatively, you can add a few drops of essential oils to a warm bath.
  • Witch hazel.Witch hazel may help you reduce itchiness and inflammation. Witch hazel comes in different forms, like creams, gels, and sprays.
  • Calamine lotion. The recommends applying calamine lotion to your rash to help manage shingles pain and itchiness.


Shingles is a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. It causes an itchy rash that’s typically on one side of your body or face.

Eating a balanced diet that’s low in high glycemic carbohydrates and processed foods can help your immune system fight off the virus.

There’s some research that decreasing arginine intake and increasing your lysine intake may help inhibit growth of the virus, but more research is needed.

Alcohol Can Enhance Creativity—But at a Cost

Can you take valacyclovir and alcohol? Is it safe?

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you’ve been prescribed valacyclovir, you’re probably wondering how the medication might impact your daily life, from side effects to drug interactions. A common question is whether you can drink alcohol while taking valacyclovir. 

  • Valacyclovir is an oral antiviral drug that is used to treat oral and genital herpes, chickenpox, and shingles.
  • It works by preventing herpes viruses from replicating and spreading throughout the body.
  • Excessive alcohol use can impair the immune system.

The short answer is that it’s not the best idea. Read on to find out why.

Valacyclovir is an antiviral drug used to treat oral herpes (also known as cold sores) and genital herpes, which are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). It is also used to treat varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles.


Prescription genital herpes treatment

 Talk with a doctor about how to treat and suppress outbreaks before the first symptom.

Learn more

Valacyclovir works by preventing HSV-1, HSV-2, and VZV from multiplying and spreading throughout the body. Valacyclovir prevents viral DNA from replicating. When that happens, the virus can’t multiply and infect more cells in your body.

Valacyclovir can be used to;

  • Treat a herpes outbreak
  • Prevent an outbreak of genital or oral herpes
  • Reduce the chance that someone who is infected with herpes will pass the virus to their partner through sexual activity (FDA, n.d.) 
  • Treat shingles and mild cases of chickenpox, which are caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV)

Valacyclovir has been shown to be an effective treatment for herpes, but it is not a cure.

Experts say that alcohol doesn’t affect the way valacyclovir works. Alcohol warnings aren’t listed on antiviral drugs like valacyclovir (Steckelberg, 2019). 

Valacyclovir can be used to treat outbreaks. It can also be prescribed to be taken regularly to prevent outbreaks altogether. Although consuming alcoholic beverages isn’t explicitly prohibited while taking the medication, Valtrex (valacyclovir) is known to cause side effects like headache (13% to 38%), nausea (5% to 15%), abdominal pain (1% to 11%), fatigue (≤8%), depression (≤7%) and dizziness (2% to 4%) — all of which can also be caused by alcohol. Therefore, excessive alcohol consumption is not recommended (UpToDate, n.d.).

If you have questions about taking valacyclovir with alcohol, it’s best to talk with a healthcare provider.


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