If you’ve ever had Shingles or know someone who has, you already know how painful it can be.
You will also discover by consulting Dr. Google that there is no cure and very few effective treatment options. As someone who is a bit of a research junkie and a first-time Shingles sufferer, I hope this information will save you some pain (and some money) on various remedies.
My blisters were gone in 5 days and the nerve pain was manageable in about 2 weeks. I could return to most of my daily activities that were non-strenuous on the 3rd week. By the 4th week (as I write this), the nerve pain comes and goes, but I can sleep better. Still, I consider myself extremely lucky.
Skip on down to the treatment options if you already know what Shingles and Postherpetic Pain is.
First Warning Signs of Shingles
- I experienced muscle weakness that seemed to get worse daily.
- I felt a general malaise for several weeks.
- My integrative medicine doctor discovered, via blood tests, that my immune system was very low making me susceptible to just about anything.
- The next symptom was severe back pain in one central spot. Visits to the chiropractor provided no relief.
- I developed a rash in the area of the pain that I attributed to the heat and ice packs I had been using.
- The rash turned into blisters across the left side of my back the next day and spread around my side to my chest.
What are Shingles?
Shingles comes from the chicken pox virus. After a childhood outbreak, the virus lays dormant in your body until it finds a weakened opportunity to return in a much more sinister way, as the Shingles virus, aka herpes zoster. It is characterized by blisters or lesions that typically appear on the torso and follow a nerve path around the body. Some people have blisters on their neck, face, or limbs.
Some folks only experience the blisters or lesions which can burn or itch. Others experience painful skin sensitivity that even the slightest touch or breeze can set off a wave of pain. And many experience deep nerve pain that lingers after the blisters have long gone. This nerve pain is known as Postherpetic Neuralgia. It can last for weeks, months or even years.
The only medical treatment is an antiviral medication called Valtrex or Valacyclovir* or Acyclovir. Supposedly this medication, when started within the first few days of an outbreak, will reduce the length of time of the outbreak and help to prevent Postherpetic Neuralgia.
Treatment Options for Shingles Blisters and Skin Sensitivity
I’m not a big fan of pharmaceuticals. So I set a course to find whatever natural remedies I could. Here’s what I used, both the Effective and
- Valacylovir*–A ten day prescription may cause some stomach upset but it may have helped reduce the length of time of the outbreak.
- Lysine–Much research shows a link between the outbreak of shingles and your Lysine/Arginine ratio. These are amino acids. To prevent herpes outbreaks, make sure your Lysine level is higher than your Arginine level. Check your supplements to see what you are already taking, but be sure to take Lysine 2000 mg per day during an outbreak and 500 per day as a preventive measure (this information came from my doctor and Dr. Elson Haas).
- Essential oils–I made a blend of 10 drops of each: Melaleuca, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Thyme, Myrrh, and Frankincense essential oils in a roller bottle and filled the rest of the bottle with fractionated coconut oil (the clear kind of coconut oil).
I applied this to the blisters every few hours. This kept the blisters from burning and I never had any itching at all. The blisters themselves were No Big Deal as a result.
- More Essential oils–I selected the oils that I knew to be antiviral and put 3 drops of each into an empty capsule and took this twice daily. I selected Oregano, Rosemary, and Frankincense. It is imperative that any essential oils taken internally be independently tested therapeutic grade. If you are uncomfortable taking essential oils internally, rub the oils on the bottoms of your feet.
Cold compress with Apple Cider Vinegar and Capsaicin (Cayenne pepper capsules) on a wet washcloth–This did not help at all. It only managed to stain my washcloth permanently. Hydrogen Peroxide–No help at all.
- Vitamin E oil and Aloe Vera Gel–This was very helpful on the blisters and especially on the areas where the skin was sensitive to the touch. I alternated using this combination and the essential oils.
Emu Oil–Very expensive and didn’t work. Listerine (original formula)–No help at all.
- Rescue Remedy–a cream whose active ingredients are flowers (Clematis, Impatiens, etc.). This can be used on active blisters and I found it to be helpful with skin sensitivity. This product is made by Bach and available at some health food stores.
Treatment Options for Postherpetic Neuralgia (Nerve Pain)
The worst part for me was the unrelenting nerve pain. It was a constant stabbing pain in my back with occasional lightning bolt jabs that would knock me out of bed or off my chair. I was unable to sleep for more than an hour for about 10 days. It was absolutely miserable. The most pain I’ve ever experienced.
I found the pain to be less when I was standing and worse when lying down. Too bad I couldn’t sleep standing up like a horse!
- Hot bath with 1/2 cup baking soda and 1 cup epsom salts–This provided more relief than anything I tried. The relief lasted for a few hours.
- TENS unit–(Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation). This is a little device you can buy at the drugstore that has a couple of electrode pads that you stick on your skin. TENS machines work by sending stimulating pulses across the surface of the skin and along the nerve strands. I found this to be quite helpful. It seemed to dull the pain.
- Capzasin Cream–This is an over-the-counter cream with the primary active ingredient of Capsaicin (Cayenne Pepper). It burned like the dickens but did help with the pain somewhat. It also burned the hand that applied it even after washing hands. I tried making my own Capsaicin cream from Cayenne Pepper capsules but ended up staining my clothes, so I resorted to the drugstore variety. Note that you should not use this on active blisters. Tip: Wipe as much of the cream off as you can before getting into a bath or you will burn, baby, burn.
- Herbal Muscle Relaxer–by Crystal Star. This is an herbal muscle relaxer capsule available at many health food stores. It was effective to some degree in dulling the pain.
- High doses of Vitamin C and B Vitamins–I took these both intravenously at my doctor’s office and at home. It’s extremely important to use high quality vitamins that are bioavailable (your body can use). I took 12 grams (not milligrams) of Vitamin C each day at home (Vitality C brand is the powdered supplement I used) and I had a custom blend of B vitamins from my doctor, so I don’t know the amount.
- Essential Oils–Lemongrass and Marjoram essential oils are great for muscle spasms and tissue repair. After the blisters were gone, this provided a lot of relief. Lemongrass can burn, so I advise that you dilute it with a carrier oil such as Coconut Oil or Olive Oil.
Hypericum Perforatum(St. John’s Wort)–this is an herbal antidepressant that is used for neurological conditions. A nutritionist suggested I try it, but I found it no help at all. Cold ice packs–Made it WORSE!
- Hot packs or heating pad–definitely helped the pain.
- Lyrica–yes, the pharmaceutical drug. This drug is intended for people suffering from nerve pain from fibromyalgia, diabetic nerve pain, and postherpetic neuralgia. I took a 50 mg tablet one night before bed and it did allow me to sleep for a longer period but left me very groggy for half the next day and constipated (TMI) for the next several days.
Do Shingles Come Back?
I found many medical websites report that most people only have shingles once. However, I heard from many poor souls who have had shingles repeatedly. The symptoms are usually not as bad as the first occurrence. I suspect that the reason doctors think it only happens once is because people probably don’t go back to the doctor for repeated occurrences because there is so little that doctors can do.
I hope and pray this was a one time occurrence for me.
What About the Shingles Vaccine?
My doctor (an integrative medicine M.D.) advised me not to get the shingles vaccine (Zostavax). After researching its effectiveness (or lack thereof) and side effects, I agree. You will have to make your own decision.
I Consider Myself Lucky
I am very grateful that my symptoms were curtailed relatively quickly compared to most folks. Everyone is biochemically different. What works for me may not help others, but I hope this information helps someone. Please let me know if you have found other remedies that are effective.
I am also very grateful to my husband for taking time from his job to care for me. I woke him several times each night for weeks to help me apply various salves and oils and to massage my painful back. He dutifully ran to the store to buy whatever elixir that we found online that might help. And he sat with me countless hours at the doctor’s office and at home.
In sickness and in health, he vowed.
Here’s your simple change for the day: Take Lysine daily to avoid Shingles.
I get my Certified Organic essential oils from here. Each batch is independently tested for quality and purity.
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