Shingles is a common disease that causes a painful rash on the body. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost one in three people in the US will get shingles sometimes in their lives. Though it can affect people of all age groups, it is more common in people above 50 years. The treatment of shingles usually includes antiviral and pain-relieving medications. You can also try home remedies to reduce discomfort and pain.
What are shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that causes painful blistering eruptions on the skin. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that leads to chickenpox. Shingles affect the nerve endings in the skin. Although it can appear on any part of the body, it most commonly affects the skin around the ribs and the torso.
When you have chickenpox during your childhood, the virus lies dormant in the spinal cord and the nerve cells that lead from the spinal cord and brain. For one in three people infected with chickenpox in the past, the shingles virus gets activated at some stage in their lives. This is when you have a shingles outbreak.
A shingles infection is often preceded by tingling and numbness over the affected skin. The first symptom of shingles is intense pain, which is followed by fluid-filled blisters that form within a few days of the pain. Some people may also experience fever, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. These symptoms may last between two to six weeks.
Though shingles is not a life-threatening condition, some people may experience postherpetic neuralgia. In this condition, the nerve fibers become damaged, and the pain can last for months after the shingles rash is over.
Who is at risk for developing shingles?
People who are most at the risk of developing shingles include:
- People with a weakened immune system such as those with cancer.
- People who are 50 or older
- People who have been ill recently
- People under excessive stress
- People who have experienced significant trauma.
Conventional treatment for shingles
There is no cure for shingles. However, prompt treatment for prescription antiviral drugs can speed up the healing process and reduce your risk of complications. These medications include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir.
Shingles can also cause severe pain. For this, your doctor may prescribe a topical capsaicin patch to numb the pain. The doctor may also prescribe medications that contain narcotics such as codeine, tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline, and anticonvulsants such as gabapentin and numbing agents such as lidocaine.
Two vaccines are licensed in the US to prevent shingles. Zoster vaccine live (ZVL, Zostavax) has been used since 2006. Recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV, Shingrix) has been used since 2017 and has been recommended by ACIP as the preferred shingles vaccine. It is given in two doses, two to six weeks apart.
Home remedies for shingles
1. Foods to eat
You must eat a healthy diet to help you recover from shingles. A healthy diet can help you deal with stress and boost immunity. Your diet must include nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B12.
Vitamin C rich foods
Incorporate fruits and vegetables like oranges, lemons, tomatoes, capsicum, kiwi, and berries into your diet. Vitamin C boosts immunity and speeds up skin healing.
Vitamin B12 rich food
Our body uses vitamin B12to to make red blood cells and to repair body tissue. It is also essential for the health of your nerves. You can get vitamin B12 from clams, mussels, crab, salmon, beef, chicken, eggs, and milk.
Vitamin E rich food
Getting enough vitamin E is essential for keeping the skin healthy and boosting the immune system. The best vitamin E sources include wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, and almonds.
Garlic and onions
Garlic and onion contain several compounds, including allicin that have antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties that can help boost your immune system.
Green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, kale, bok choy, and broccoli are immune-boosting foods.
Drink enough water to help flush out the virus from the body. Try and drink at least two liters of purified water every day.
Green tea has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It contains polyphenols that can help fight the herpes virus.
2. Avoid these foods
Food rich in arginine
Although arginine plays a vital role in tissue repair, it has been known to promote the growth of the shingles virus. Some of the common arginine-rich foods that you need to avoid are nuts and seeds, beans, lentils, soy, and chicken.
High sugar food
The consumption of sugar decreases white blood cells in the body, which are vital for fighting off infection in the body. Avoid cookies, cakes, and doughnuts. Healthy fruit juices are also filled with sugar, so avoid those.
Processed food is known to suppress the immune system. Fried food promote an acidic environment which is not conducive to healing.
Caffeine stimulates the adrenal gland. Overproduction of adrenalin can send your body into the flight or fight response. The high level of perceived stress from caffeine consumption can compromise your body’s immune system allowing the herpes virus to reactivate.
Alcohol consumption during shingles infection can put stress on the liver and the body’s healing process.
3. Take vitamin supplements
People who have low immunity and are over the age of 50 should take vitamin supplements to maintain good health and a robust immune system.
Vitamin C (1000 mg, three times daily)
Take vitamin C supplements to boost white blood cells and to help with immune system function.
Vitamin B12 (1000 to 5000 mcg daily)
Take vitamin B12 supplements to reduce pain and to promote faster recovery.
Zinc (50 mg daily)
Take zinc supplements for their antiviral effect and to boost immunity. These supplements should be taken at the first sign of illness.
4. Herbal medicines
St John’s wort
This herb has antiviral properties and can provide relief for those suffering neuralgic pain post shingles. The combined effect of St John’s wort tea and oil can help alleviate pain.
Olive leaf extract builds your immune system naturally. Olive leaf tea and capsules can target the shingles virus from inside. Skin creams and soap with olive leaf extract can be applied to the rash directly.
Gentiana scabra is a blue-purple flower occurring throughout North America. It helps provide pain relief in shingles and decreases the chances of postherpetic neuralgia.
Echinacea is known to help fight off infections. It also helps to control shingles pain.
5. Essential oils
Essential oils are effective remedies for many skin conditions. They help with healing and soothing skin irritations. The essential oils that can help to treat shingles naturally include –
The topical application of geranium essential oil eases pain associated with shingles.
The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of chamomile oil aid in skin regeneration and reduces ulcers.
This oil provides anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that promote skin healing.
This cooling oil has analgesic properties that help to reduce pain.
6. Cool compress
Cool compresses can assist in relieving itchiness and inflammation in the case of shingles. Just soak a natural cotton cloth or towel in cool water, wring it and place it on the itchy area. Repeat this process as required.
Avoid using ice water or hot water on shingles blisters. Hot water can increase the blood flow and slow down the healing process, while ice water can increase skin sensitivity.
7. Manuka honey
Manuka honey has many properties that make it unique and popular. Its high methylglyoxal content and high phenolic content give it antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Manuka honey boosts the immune system. You can also use it topically to heal the rashes and to prevent pigmentation. It even improves the scars left on the skin. According to a 2012 study, manuka honey and clover honey have significant antiviral activity against varicella-zoster virus (1).
8. Witch hazel
Witch hazel is a natural astringent. It helps reduce both itching and pain associated with shingles. You can apply witch hazel cream or water over the affected area to relieve irritation and inflammation.
9. Oat bath
According to some studies, oat extract moistens dry skin and soothes sensitive and inflamed skin. The active ingredients in oats like flavonoids and saponins help inflammation. Colloidal oatmeal is an effective treatment. Colloidal oats products exclude oat protein to prevent any allergic reactions. You can make an oat bath by adding colloidal oatmeal to cool water in the tub. Hot water can make the itching worse.
10. Baking soda and cornstarch paste
Mix two parts cornstarch or baking soda and one part water to form a paste. Apply to the affected area and rinse off after 15 minutes. Repeat if needed. This paste helps to relieve the itchiness of shingles.
11. Lower stress
Although stress does not cause shingles, it can lower your immune system, which can lead to shingles. Stress can also alter a person’s perception of pain. The symptoms of shingles like itching, pain, and burning become more intolerable when a person is under stress. So, identify your stress triggers and alter your lifestyle to lower pressure.
Shingles is a viral infection that causes painful blistering eruptions on the skin. Though shingles can affect people of all age groups, it is more common in people above 50 years. There is no cure for shingles. However, prompt treatment for prescription antiviral drugs can speed up the healing process and reduce your risk of complications. You can also opt for natural remedies that can ease the pain and discomfort and speed up the healing process.
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