Shingles, also known as herpes zoster is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). This very same virus also causes chickenpox. So, if you have had a chickenpox outbreak in your childhood or later, you are more prone to contract shingles. This is because the varicella virus stays dormant in your nerve roots after a chicken pox outbreak has passed. Although, your body develops immunity against chickenpox this dormant virus mutates to manifest as shingles. Certain factors such as stress, diseases, and a weakening immunity with age, can wake up the varicella virus and result in shingles. Hence, we often see this rash in people above 50 years of age, although some children are also affected.
The shingles rash typically appears as a band or strip of red blisters, accompanied with severe pain, tingling, or itching that lasts for 3-4 weeks. This pain is so intense that some individuals also compare it to labor pains or pain due to kidney stones. Although a lucky few do get by with a mild rash and little or no pain. Since the shingles virus affects your nerves, it can damage them resulting in long-term pains known as post-herpetic neuralgia. Hence, it is vital to treat your rash on time with effective measures.
Your doctor may prescribe anything from anti-viral medications to anti-depressants and painkillers to help you deal with shingles and reduce its outbreaks. However, not everyone finds relief with conventional medicine. Most people experience little or no relief, and acquire the additional burden of side effects such as headaches, nausea, decreased appetite, diarrhea, and stomachache. The good news is that there are a lot of home remedies and alternative therapies available to help you heal your rash and avoid the recurrence of outbreaks. You may feel overwhelmed with all the information available about shingles on the internet, but there is no need to panic or feel disheartened. You can treat your rash naturally at home.
Home remedies and personal care for shingles
Most home remedies and hygiene measures help relieve pain and speed up the healing process. Although these measures do not cure shingles, they may make living with the rash more comfortable.
- Avoid picking or scratching the blisters. They usually dry up and fall off by themselves so leave them alone. However, make sure you wash and keep the rash clean using mild soap and water.
- Use cool moist compresses or ice packs to soothe your pain, and apply calamine lotion to relieve itching.
- Application of baking soda or cornstarch over the affected areas will dry and heal your blisters more quickly. Domeboro or Burow’s solution that contains aluminum acetate is also useful, as it removes the crusts, decreases oozing, and keeps the affected area dry.
- Foods high in the essential amino acid lysine are known to reduce pain and facilitate healing of shingles. Include lots of fish, meats, cheese (especially parmesan), milk, yogurt, eggs, apricots, apples, avocados, pears, pineapples, watercress, asparagus, and beans in your diet if you wish to increase your lysine intake.
- Avoid or minimize your caffeine intake, as it is a nerve stimulant and can bring on a shingles outbreak or aggravate an existing rash.
- Some researchers also suggest that arginine found in your food can aggravate your symptoms. Hence, avoid tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, grapes, berries, peanuts, pecan nuts, cashews, wheat germ, chocolate, and sugars. These foods contain high amounts of arginine.
Another potentially effective herb is cayenne pepper. Capsaicin present in cayenne pepper blocks the pain signals given out by your nerves and reduces pain. Mix some cayenne pepper in any moisturizer, and apply it over the affected area. You may experience some burning initially which subsides in a few minutes. However, if this sensation persists for longer discontinue this practice. Oral Capsaicin tablets are also available in herbal stores.
The key reason behind a shingles outbreak is weakened immunity. Homeopathy works on the principle of strengthening your immunity to fight the infections and viruses attacking your body, and it seldom produces any side effects. For the best results with these medicines visit a registered homeopath, as they are qualified to review your medical history and prescribe an individual remedy best suited for you. However, you can also make use of some safe remedies of the homeopath at home.
You can take Aconite 30C when you feel the beginning of a shingles outbreak, with the characteristic tingling and pain. Apis mellifica 30C is what you need if your shingles are bright red, with itching, and stinging pains that are better with cool compresses. On the contrary, if warm compresses relieve your stinging pains, arsenic album 30C could help. Restlessness along with red water-filled blisters, especially on the left side of your body, with itching and intense pain calls for Rhus tox 30C. Rhus tox, Spigelia, and Ranunculus bulbosus are commonly recommended for aiding the side effects of shingles. You can also apply homeopathic ointments containing Rhus tox, Calendula, or Hypericum locally to help with pain. Calendula can also prevent or lighten the scars that may remain after the rash subsides.
Using some of the above-mentioned remedies and techniques will improve your shingles in no time. Anything that can reduce your discomfort and suffering due to shingles is a good thing. Natural remedies are even better as they heal and strengthen your body without causing significant side effects.