Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles. Shingles isn’t a life-threatening condition, but it can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles. Early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who’s had chickenpox may develop shingles. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus enters your nervous system and lies dormant for years.
Eventually, it may reactivate and travel along nerve pathways to your skin — producing shingles. But, not everyone who’s had chickenpox will develop shingles.
The reason for shingles is unclear. But it may be due to lowered immunity to infections as you grow older. Shingles is more common in older adults and in people who have weakened immune systems.
A person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who isn’t immune to chickenpox. This usually occurs through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the person will develop chickenpox, however, not shingles. Chickenpox can be dangerous for some people. Until your shingles blisters scab over, you are contagious and should avoid physical contact with anyone who hasn’t yet had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, especially people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns (www.mayoclinic.org).
The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and fully clears up within 2 to 4 weeks.
Before the rash appears, people often have pain, itching, or tingling in the area where it will develop. This may happen several days before the rash appears.
Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. Shingles on the face can affect the eye and cause vision loss. In rare cases (usually in people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread on the body and look similar to a chickenpox rash.
Other symptoms of shingles can include
- Upset stomach (www.cdc.gov).
A shingles vaccine may help prevent shingles.
People looking to receive the shingles vaccine have two options: Shingrix and Zostavax.
The most common side effects of either shingles vaccine are redness, pain, tenderness, swelling and itching at the injection site, and headaches.
The shingles vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get shingles. But this vaccine will likely reduce the course and severity of the disease and reduce your risk of postherpetic neuralgia. The shingles vaccine is used only as a prevention strategy. It’s not intended to treat people who currently have the disease. Talk to your doctor about which option is right for you.
There’s no cure for shingles, but prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs can speed healing and reduce your risk of complications. These medications include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax)
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
Shingles can cause severe pain, so your doctor also may prescribe:
- Capsaicin topical patch (Qutenza)
- Anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
- Numbing agents, such as lidocaine, delivered via a cream, gel, spray, or skin patch
- Medications that contain narcotics, such as codeine
- An injection including corticosteroids and local anesthetics
Shingles generally last between two and six weeks. Most people get shingles only once, but it is possible to get it two or more times.
Natural remedies to manage symptoms
Healing baths: Daily cleansing of the blisters reduces the risk of spreading the infection. Take a cool bath or shower to soothe skin. The coolness of the water can ease pain from shingles blisters and calm itchiness. Do not use hot water. Hot water can worsen shingles blisters because heat increases blood flow. Dry your body completely and then wash your towel to avoid spreading the virus to others (journals.co.za).
Wet, cool compress: In addition to taking a bath to relieve pain and itchiness associated with a shingles rash, apply a cool, moist compress. Do this several times throughout the day to relieve symptoms. Soak a cloth in cool water, wring out the water, and apply the cloth to the rash and blisters. The coolness of the compress can reduce pain. Repeat the process as often as you need. Do not apply an ice pack to the rash. The coldness may increase skin sensitivity and worsen the pain.
Soothing lotions and creams: Scratching a shingles rash can cause scarring and prolong blisters. If itching doesn’t improve after a healing bath or a cool compress, use soothing lotions and creams. Lotions and creams don’t speed up the healing process, but they can increase your comfort level. Avoid scented or perfumed lotions. They can cause further irritation. Find a great selection of unscented lotions.
Use lotions and creams sparingly. Heavy application can keep sores from drying out and lengthen the healing process. For the same reasons, don’t use antibiotic ointments on the sores.
Echinacea: Echinacea is an amazing caffeine-free herb naturally helps fight inflammation as well as bacterial and viral infection and stimulates certain white blood cells. It is good for the immune system and the lymphatic system and is useful for allergies, colic, colds, flu, and other infectious illnesses (www.tandfonline.com).
Stress Reduction: Reducing stress in your life as much as possible is one of the key natural treatments for shingles. Stress reduction is such an overall immune system and health booster.
Holy Basil: Holy basil, or Tulsi, is a super herb plant that has been used for centuries by herbalists and Ayurvedic medicine as an “adaptogen” This super herb allows the body to adapt against stress and promotes good general health. Holy Basil also contains antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties (www.semanticscholar.org).
“Recognition and treatment of shingles.” Drugs 48.4 (1994): 528-548.
“Management of herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia.” American family physician 61.8 (2000): 2437.
“Preventing shingles: symptoms, treatment and management.” British Journal of Healthcare Assistants 4.3 (2010): 120-123.
Note: “Western Pharmaceutical” is defined as a system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Quote from National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov
Holistic Health: is mindfulness of one’s mind, body, emotions, spirit, environment & social group.