Shingles is caused by a herpes virus, and is also known as herpes zoster. Perhaps you are reading this page because you have it yourself, or you may know a friend or relative who has it or has experienced this rather uncomfortable condition. This page will expend on shingles, explain what it is, the causes, signs and symptoms as well as explore conventional and natural treatments which will give relief. There are many options you have in terms of natural treatment, and I’d suggest you look carefully at the dietary changes as well as boosting your immune system with natural medicines.
Shingles is essentially a herpes viral infection, and there are several kinds of herpes infections. For example, there is also Herpes Simplex Type 1 (cold sores) or Herpes Simplex Type 2 (genital herpes). Shingles can be most distressing, and in most all cases the very first symptom you will experience is usually a tingling, sharp, burning pain under the skin, typically followed after 2-3 days by a red rash and blisters.
Out of all the conditions to affect the skin, this would have to rank as the most painful of them all because it involves the underlying nerves and can cause you plenty of misery. I have seen a few elderly patients over the years who have really suffered with shingles, so let’s hope this page can help you identify this form of herpes and bring a speedy relief to your suffering.
Herpes Zoster And Chicken Pox
Herpes zoster is caused by the same family of viruses which cause chicken pox (varicella zoster). Some experts believe that shingles can develop many years after a bout of chickenpox, because the herpes virus can lie latent in the nerve cells around a certain part of the spinal cord. It is my personal belief that it is particularly virulent in those in their who either contracted chickenpox early in life and suppressed the condition with drugs, steroid creams or other lotions or potions, or in those in which the chickenpox was not fully expressed or developed and remained in a latent form
All herpes viruses remain for life, whether they be in the form of shingles, cold sores or genital herpes. At some stage in a person’s life they become re-activated when a person is more susceptible and as their resistance drops for one of several reasons which we will explore.
Shingles Signs and Symptoms
Shingles can occur at any age but I have found that it usually occurs in adults and can affect both males and females equally. What you will find is that those generally who are at a greater risk of developing shingles include people whose immune systems have been impaired due to ill health, medications or diseases that have the potential to affect the immune system in general.
That burning stinging pain – The interesting thing about shingles is that it has a peculiar tendency to affect one side of a person’s body. The discomfort includes a tingling, sharp, or burning pain under the skin which can occur anywhere on the body but most commonly affects a person’s face, upper abdomen or back. Most patients I have seen with herpes zoster speak of a mild pain, but it certainly can be quite sever indeed. I have noticed that the longer one has shingles, and particularly the older one is, the more likely it is that the pain will be more severe.
Symptoms that accompany the pain – Feeling not well at all, there could be a fever or a sensation of being hot, cold or clammy. The person may have a headache, have an upset tummy and in most cases there will be tender or enlarged lymph nodes around the neck, groin or armpit.
That rash – The first thing that most always occurs is the actual infection, and you may develop a fever and be aware of tender or swollen lymph nodes close to where the rash will appear. After 2-3 days a red rash appears over the painful area of skin followed quickly by the development of small, fluid filled blisters. The rash can be quite itchy indeed, and can even drive you crazy. Usually within a few days of appearing the blisters dry and crust over and clear away completely within 2-3 weeks. In some severe cases, is possible for the rash to cause mild scarring. Patients have told me over the years that hot water greatly alleviates the itch, and in some people they have found that the application of ice or a cold pack helps a lot, so it is a matter of trial and error to see what works for you.Be aware – herpes is at its most infective stage when the blister like vesicles appear, and they are filled with fluid so be careful not to scratch them and transmit this fluid to somebody else!
Shingles affects the nerves of the body, and it is common for the rash to appear in a band across the body or down the leg along the path of the actual nerve which has been affected. Occasionally the rash does not even eventuate after the initial pain has developed.
Causes of Shingles
There are many potential causes of shingles, but is is thought that these factors have the most influence on the development of shingles:
- Stress – emotional, physical or psychological
- Lowered immunity for example due to immuno-suppressant drugs like steroids or chemotherapy
- After a recent illness or major surgery
- Increasing age.
How To Diagnose Shingles
It is not that hard to diagnose this condition, an experienced practitioner can (or should be able to!) easily pick up the diagnosis in the clinic, I have seen several cases over the years which presented with the fever then the pain and rash and turned out to be shingles. Any doctor should be able to make the shingles diagnosis based on its characteristic symptoms. A full medical history should be taken and your health care professional may take a sample of the fluid from the blister so that it can be tested in a laboratory for presence of the shingles virus.
Conventional Shingles Treatment
Conventional medical treatment of shingles is basically limited to symptom relief, because shingles is caused by a virus and viruses are not affected to any degree by drugs such as antibiotics, and only in a minimal sense with anti-viral drugs. On rare occasions, the painful rash caused by shingles may even affect the eyes, and treatment by an ophthalmologist (an eye specialist) may be required to prevent damage to the cornea, which is the transparent part of the eyeball which covers the iris and pupil.
Here are some of the typical conventional treatments you doctor may recommend:
- Cool compresses applied to the affected area
- Pain relief medications such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol
- Lotions or creams may be prescribed for the rash
- Acyclovir (an anti-viral drug) may be prescribed (which has little effect on the actual virus).
- Steroids such as Hydrocortisone may be prescribed if the rash and pain is severe
- Antibiotics may be required if the skin rash becomes infected and a bacterial infection begins in the affected area.
Rest And Relaxation Are Best
- Tai Chi. According to the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Tai Chi has been found to boost the immune system in older adults to a large degree, aiding shingles. Tai Chi is a traditional form of Chinese exercise that combines relaxation, meditation and aerobic activity, and I like to call it “meditation in motion”. A clinical trial performed at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested that Tai Chi might not only help older adults boost their immunity to shingles, but help reduce the severity and duration of this immune problem as well.
- Take a chill pill. According to the Mayo Clinic in America, a leading conventional treatment centre, regular periods of rest and avoidance of strenuous activities are highly recommended for those feeling weak and/or tired from the pain of shingles. The Mayo Clinic also recommends avoiding stress, which appears to have a worsening affect on pain. Things to try might include listening to music or other relaxation techniques.
- Distraction is another technique that patients can use to diminish the discomfort of pain they experience with shingles. Focusing on pain and itching can cause patients to feel stress or obsessively scratch their sores, which can lead to further complications like infection. Working on a hobby or reading a book can help a person to take their mind off their condition.
I always recommend that you wash the shingles lesions a few times a day with Tea Tree Oil Soap, and then leave them uncovered to breathe. It is important for you to note that the shingles virus can be passed to another person who has not had chickenpox via the open rash during the blister phase, so it is important for you to cover the sores.
- A cool, wet compress applied to the blisters can help relieve pain and itching associated with shingles. Compresses can be made in two ways: You can simply use water by itself or create a compress using water and apply cider vinegar, adding about a tablespoon of the apple cider vinegar to a litre of water. Compresses should be applied 3 times a day while the pain and itching persist.
- Cool baths are another soothing anti-itch solution that gives patients relief. Baking soda can be added to the bath to help with itching. Just like in itchy eczema, uncooked oatmeal can also be used in the cool baths to help alleviate the itching associated with shingles. Relief from these symptoms is important because it can stop you from scratching those blisters on your skin potentially causing scarring or infection.
- Chickweed Ointment (health-food shop) can be most beneficial t5o alleviate the itch, especially once the fluid filled vesicles have burst and crusted over and the condition is still itchy.
Eric’s Natural Medicine Treatment Of Shingles
There are many different natural health options open to you when it comes to herpes virus, both in terms of prevention as well as treatment. Here is a list of the best solutions:
- A simple trick to relieve lesions is to apply a cool or cold wet wash cloth to the affected area. A wet towel can be put into the freezer for a while after wetting it to make it colder. Apply ice if you feel a herpetic lesion coming on.
- You may be surprised to learn that heat can also be of great relief to some people, and a warm to hot shower or bath for some of my patients has given them much relief. Worth a try if the cold does not appear to give relief.
- Vitamin C is one of the best of all vitamins and the one I suggest you take when you are diagnosed, I have no doubt that a good daily dose is much more effective than Acyclovir. Start with a half a teaspoon of Vitamin C powder twice daily and build up to three doses of one half teaspoon daily.
- Vitamin E taken daily before meals may reduce the pain of shingles. (Study published in the Archives of Dermatology) Vitamin E capsules can be squeezed directly onto lesions, this should help somewhat with the pain.
- A study published in the Journal of Geriatrics from a few years ago showed that Vitamin B12 injections were beneficial.
- Calamine lotion may relieve the pain and help dry the lesions.
- Acupuncture has been shown to be most beneficial for the nerve pain, give it a go if the pain is chronic.
The Best Diet For Shingles
Reducing your stress levels is most important, as is getting adequate rest, and along with a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is your best starting point for both the prevention as well as treatment of shingles.
- Eliminate the sugars from your diet as sugar has a direct ability to suppress your immune system.
- A diet rich in vitamins, minerals and various nutritional contingent factors has a tremendous ability to boost your immune system. Best fruits and vegetables will always be the brightly coloured ones like capsicum (bell peppers), eggplant, carrots, avocado, red onions, you get the picture.
- Some misguided advice I have read on-line claims that “protein can encourage herpetic blisters and symptoms, and if you do eat protein to take the amino acid supplement Lysine to counteract the amino acid Arginine found in protein that is linked to cold sore activation”. I have found this to be complete and utter nonsense, and have not linked the appearance or aggravation of a herpes condition to animal meats such as chicken and fish or beef. In fact, chicken and fish are actually rich sources of the amino acid Lysine, which inhibits the viral replication of herpes! Worst food for those with herpes? Chocolate and nuts, and thus the hazelnut and chocolate spread called Nutella is the number one BAD food.
My dietary recommendations have been especially formulated for those suffering form herpes type viruses, including Herpes 1 (cold sores) Herpes 2 (genital herpes) Shingles and Chicken Pox. It is recommended that you avoid or eliminate the foods which contain the amino acid Arginine, which aid in viral replication, particularly at the time of the outbreak (i.e., when you feel a ‘tingle’) Eat foods high in Lysine, an amino acid which inhibits viral replication of the herpes virus. It works like a charm and is particularly effective when used in conjunction with the diet below and additional Vitamin C.
Eric’s Specific Herpes Foods To Eat and Foods to Avoid List
The amino acid called arginine aids in the replication of the herpes virus, and the amino acid called lysine inhibits it, so common sense prevails here. Reduce or better still eliminate arginine containing foods if you have a bad case. Eat more lysine containing foods. The foods highlighted in bold are the top ones in their respective category.
|ARGININE FOODS – To Eliminate||LYSINE FOODS – To Eat|
Is Shingles Contagious?
Yes it is. The virus that causes shingles (varicella zoster) is actually present in the fluid within the blisters of people who have shingles. The spread of this virus mainly occurs through direct or indirect contact with the fluid in the blisters. Be careful, if you do have shingles you need to know that it is contagious from when the blisters first develop until after all of the blisters have crusted over. And, don’t scratch these crusted over blisters, you may find that they can become infected. The interesting this to note is that if the virus is transmitted from a person who has shingles to a person who has not had chickenpox, that person will probably develop chickenpox, and not shingles!
The most common complication of shingles is a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia. This condition is characterised by persistent pain at the site of the shingles rash that lasts for more than one month. Anti-seizure and anti-depressant medications are sometimes used to treat the pain caused by post-herpetic neuralgia.
- Bacterial skin infections
- Damage to the foetus if the mother develops shingles in the early months of pregnancy. (very rare)
- Damage to the eye if shingles affecting the eye is left untreated. In rare cases, blindness can occur
Most complications of shingles are very rare, but it is still important to consult a health-care professional as soon as shingles is suspected so that an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment can be given. This is especially important for those people with a weakened immune system.
Post Herpetic Neuralgia
What this essentially means is the pain you experience after shingles, namely nerve pain. Please bear in mind that the results can be variable and may be disappointing in long-standing cases. Here are the best tips:
- Vitamin E, 400 IU, 3 times per day (prevention or treatment): Long-term administration may be necessary for established neuralgia. `•
- Vitamin B12 (1,000 mcg) and thiamine (50 mg) intramuscular, daily, then taper according to response (anecdotal).
- Topical capsaicin (0.025%), 4 times per day (for treatment): In an uncontrolled trial, this treatment reduced or eliminated pain in 9 of 12 patients after 4 weeks. Capsaicin may cause transient burning after each application for the first 3 days. Avoid contact with the eyes; application with a gloved hand may be desirable.
- For herpes zoster ophthalmicus: Eyedrops containing Vitamin C (250 mg/ml) and Vitamin A (2,500 IU/ml): Adjust to physiologic pH. Place 1-2 drops in the eye every hour; taper as improvement occurs (clinical observation – Dr. Jonathon Wright).
- Doermann, D. J., Frey, R. J. (2006) Shingles. The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Third Edition. Jacqueline L. Longe, Editor. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale.
- DermNet NZ (2007) Shingles. New Zealand Dermatological Society. http://dermnetnz.org/viral/herpes-zoster.html
- Everybody (2001) Shingles. Auckland: Medi Media (NZ) Ltd http://www.everybody.co.nz/page-50986417-03c4-4258-b3f6-c923716f3d42.aspx
- Glanze, W.D., Anderson, K.N. & Anderson, L.E. (Eds.) (2006) Mosby’s medical, nursing and allied health dictionary. (6th ed.) St.Louis: Mosby – Year Book Inc.
Last Page Update: 18 September 2011