Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. After having chicken pox the virus lies dormant in the nerve root near the spine. Later in life the virus reactivates causing shingles. The nerves are damaged and results in mild to very severe (post herpetic neuralgia) pain which affects sleep and appetite.Normally, in most cases of shingles this resolve within a few weeks, but in some it can last months or in some cases years.
Symptoms of Shingles
Shingles tends to occur more often in older people first as a tingling, burning or painful rash on one side of the body, but it can also develop on the head and neck or the eye. There is associated headache, fever, tiredness and general feeling of being unwell.
The neuralgic pain typically starts when the shingles vesicles have crusted over and started to heal. In a proportion of people the pain can be very severe. The area around the pain is extremely sensitive to touch and temperature changes and is described as a deep aching, burning, stabbing, gnawing or an electric shock. There can be longer-term nerve pain for many months or even years.
Treatment of Shingles
Shingles pains are not easily controlled by conventional medication. Usually a selection of pain relief medication, locally soothing creams or lotions and antiviral drugs will be used.
Integrative & Complementary medicine
Maintaining good health and reducing stress is crucial to reducing the duration and severity of shingles. Stress depletes many nutrients in the body hence affecting its ability to function well.
Acupuncture can help to relieve pain symptoms in shingles. Acupuncture stimulates muscles, nerves and other local tissue to release endorphins and other neurohumoral factors changing the way pain is perceived by the brain and spinal cord, thus reducing pain symptoms. Additionally, it reduces inflammation by releasing vascular, enhance the function of immune related natural killer cells and immunomodulating factors. It also enhances micro blood circulation which helps to disperse inflammatory products. Acupuncture is also useful to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Nutritional support for the nervous and immune system will provide the necessary nutrient and vitamins. Supplements can include, multivitamins, essential fatty acids, vitamin B complex, vitamin C and oregano (antiviral).
Aromatherapy & Massage can be given when the person has entered the non-infectious stage. This is usually once the blisters have dried and healed. Aromatherapy and massage can help to alleviate stress and promote healing and relaxation. Analgesic and anti viral essential oils such as tea tree, bergamot, rose and lavender can be helpful in easing the pain and soothing the irritation. Bergamot is also an excellent antidepressant.
Other therapies: Capsaicin cream, vitamin E and aloe vera gel act as soothing emollients and can offer symptomatic relief. Meditation, biofeedback and deep breathing exercises may be helpful in managing pain and anxiety.
- Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Patient.co.uk.
- Shingles Aware
- Herpes. (2011). British Acupuncture Council.
Revised: Dec 2014