> Shingles Treatment
Shingles are essentially a reactivation of the chicken pox virus.
As most people know, when a person contracts chicken pox, the virus
manifests into red bumps in various parts of the body. What many people
do not realize is that once the immune system has cleared away the
‘bumps’, it literally suppresses the chicken pox virus
but does not kill it. The virus then sits dormant in the nerve cells,
kept in check by the immune system.
Singles, or herpes zoster, is the re-emergence of the pox virus. Usually
this re-emergence is due to a weakened immune as is the case with
people who are very ill or elderly people. The immune system can no
longer suppress the virus, and it manifests as ‘shingles’.
Anyone who has had chicken pox can have a shingles outbreak –
indeed, almost half of the population over 65 have or will suffer
from a shingles outbreak. Besides age and illness, stress can also
be a trigger for shingles, as it is for other herpes related outbreaks
such as cold sores. Neuralgia, or post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is
the continuation of intense paid well after the physical manifestations
of shingles have disappeared (more in symptoms).
Symptoms of Shingles
Like cold sores, there is usually a tingling or itchiness before a
shingles rash manifests. Some people experience sharp pains about
a week before shingles manifests, but in most cases people do not
feel any pain until the rash is present. In some cases, patients’
pre-rash pain has been misdiagnosed as heart or gastrointestinal problems.
When the rash manifests, it usually has specific identifiable properties.
Firstly, the rash appears on only one side of the body, in most cases
at the chest or trunk area. Second, th rash is usually formed in a
‘belt’ like shape, wrapping around half the body like
a ‘half belt’. The zolster in ‘herpes zolster’
comes from the Greek work for belt, and shingles is derived from the
latin word meaning belt as well. In some cases, rashes may appear
on the side of the face and scalp. In these cases, there is risk of
serious eye infection and a medical evaluation should be a priority.
The onset of the physical rash comes with the onset of pain and discomfort.
Patients have complained of incessant itching, burning and tingling.
Other patients experience extreme stabbing pains and discomfort (the
reason for heart attack misdiagnosis is extreme stabbing pain on left
side of the body). The rash will eventually turn into a blister, much
the same way a ‘cold sore’ manifests. Finally, the blisters
will dry out and scab (shedding) and will eventually disappear. The
entire lifecycle of the rash itself is usually 2-4 weeks.
Unfortunately, the pain of shingles may not end with the rash. A condition
called post-herpetic neuralgia is common among shingles sufferers.
It is a condition where the pains associated with the outbreak continue
long after the rash has disappeared. Some patients have suffered extreme
pain for months and even years after developing PHN or post-herpetic
Contraction and Transmission
Shingles are caused by the triggering or re-awakening of the chicken
pox virus. Shingles itself is not contagious in any way. You cannot
get shingles if you have not had chicken pox in the past. To be
clear – you cannot transmit or contract shingles from another
person, you can only get shingles if you have had chicken pox in
the past. It is important to note that the chicken pox virus will
always be present in the nerve cells unless you have been immunized.
In the past 5 years, chicken pox vaccinations have been developed.
This means that the next generation of children will never get chicken
pox, and will therefore never have to experience shingles. For the
rest of us however, shingles is a very real concern.
Shingles and Herpes
Although shingles (herpes zolster or varicella zolster) is part
of the herpes family, having shingles outbreaks in no way puts you
at risk of contracting other herpes simplexs (HSV1 and HSV2 for
example which are responsible for cold sores and genital herpes).
Again, there is no cure for the zolster varicella virus and therefore,
treatment methods focus on alleviating pain and reducing the duration
and frequency of shingles outbreaks. For reducing the duration of
the rash, doctors have traditionally prescribed antiviral medication
such as acyclovir and valcyvlovir. The idea is to attack the virus
as soon as it is detected. These medications have been shown to
have some efficacy in clinical studies. In conjunction with antiviral
medication, some doctors will prescribe pain medication or even
nerve blocks so that the patient can deal with the pain associated
with the rash.
In some cases, doctors will also prescribe steroidal drugs or other
anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling of the rash. The
above medications, although effective in some cases, come with many
caveats. Firstly, many of these drugs have unwanted side effects
such as nausea, high blood pressure or other complications. Some
cannot be taken while pregnant, however acyclovir has been shown
to be safe during pregnancy and is sometimes used to prevent transmission
of the herpes virus to the baby. Corticosteroids have a number of
side effects and cannot be taken by some people. Further, steroids
become less effective over time.
Natural treatment is slowly gaining credibility in the medical field
and new clinical studies are showing that natural treatment can
be more effective than contemporary medicine. We are now learning
that certain natural products have a broad spectrum of healing properties,
comparable to the 20th century wonder pill ‘Aspirin’.
To treat shingles, naturopath and naturist are using natural compounds
like aloe vera (as a topical remedy), Lemon balm and Carrageenans
as antiviral agents and lactoferrin as a viral suppressant. These
days, there is no need to go to the health store and buy raw goods
for the purpose af naturopathic healing. There are many products
available for shingles that are packaged and ready to use and that
rival the efficacy of modern synthetic drugs. Natural treatments
almost never have negative side effects and in many cases have positive
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/shingles/shingles.htm
Mayo Education and Research:
National Institute of Health: