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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 neuralgia.

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).

Shingles Treatment

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 ones.


National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:

Mayo Education and Research:

National Institute of Health:

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