Do you remember when you were a kid and you were hit with a nasty case of the chickenpox?
Sure you got to stay home from school and maybe even pig out on ice cream for a few days—but it was probably an uncomfortable experience, nevertheless.
Fast forward a few years and chickenpox’s best friend might show up: shingles. The shingles disease closely mimics chickenpox—they are both caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
The varicella-zoster virus has the ability to survive even after chickenpox has been cured; it can live in a person’s nerve tissue for years, before finally emerging as shingles.
What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?
Shingles causes a painful rash that can spread all over your body, but is mostly found on the torso. As mentioned previously, shingles is caused by the virus varicella-zoster—part of the group of viruses called herpes. That is one reason why red rashes and bumps form when you have shingles. However, don’t get shingles symptoms confused with herpes symptoms. Those symptoms include cold sores and genital herpes—both of which can be sexually transmitted infections.
Am I at Risk?
Children and younger generations generally have stronger immune systems compared to the elderly. As we grow older, our immune systems become more vulnerable—unfortunately, our chances of fighting off diseases decrease. Consequently, shingles tends to target older generations and those who have weak immune systems.
Is It Contagious?
Should you go to work if you have shingles? Should you go out with your friends if you have shingles? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. The varicella-zoster virus can be passed on to anyone who is not immune to chickenpox. The virus is usually transmitted through direct contact with the open sores from the shingles rash. Once the person is infected, chickenpox will form, not shingles.
Chickenpox can also be very harmful for certain groups of people. You should not be in direct contact with anyone until your shingle sores scab over.
People you should avoid physical contact with if you have shingles are:
- Anyone with a weak immune system
- Pregnant women
It is generally not recommended to go to your doctor and ask for prescription medication to treat shingles. Many doctors will prescribe just about anything for shingles—including painkillers and antidepressants. This can actually put more stress on the immune system, which will prolong the disease.
If you do go to your doctor, make sure that you request antiviral medications. These medications will reduce the pain of the shingles and shorten the symptoms. You can use these in conjunction with other medications, or you can use them alone, and let the virus run its course. I also recommend that you give natural treatments a shot.
Natural Treatments for Shingles
As I mentioned, shingles can result in a painful rash that can spread all over your body, but is mostly found on the torso. Even after you have treated it, it can still resurface at anytime. The goal is to prevent it from resurfacing.
Here are five natural treatments to help soothe your shingles:
1. Take a Cool Bath!
As children, it was almost impossible to get us into the bathtub (thank goodness we know better as adults!). If diagnosed with shingles, you should go directly to the bathtub. Taking a cool bath will ease the uncomfortable shingles pain. Soak in cool water for several minutes, then dry your skin completely. Don’t make the water too cold—the skin can be more sensitive to low temperatures, which may cause more pain.
After drying your skin, gather all the towels that have come into contact with the open sores, and wash them at the hottest water setting in your washing machine. You want those towels clean—blisters, or scratched skin can transmit the varicella-zoster virus anywhere.
2. Take a Healing Bath
If you want to get a little adventurous (and value comfort), then try taking a healing bath. Colloidal oatmeal baths and starch baths can help soothe irritated skin. You can find these bath formulas at drugstores.
Once you have obtained the products, prepare your bath. Use lukewarm water— do not go too hot or too cold as this can increase skin irritation. Make sure that you read the product instructions carefully. When you are finished, remember to disinfect any towels or cloths that come in contact with blisters or rashes on your skin.
3. Use a Wet Towel
If you are in too much pain to move, then try using a wet towel on your rashes— it works in the same way a cool bath does! (Note: Under no circumstances should you use an ice pack.) Dunk the towel or cloth in cold water, ring it out thoroughly, and then gently apply it to your rash for several minutes. This should help ease the pain and irritation.
After you have applied the cloth or towel to your rashes, wash the cloth at the hottest water setting in your washing machine.
4. Try Soothing Lotions
When using lotions, avoid scented lotions as they might be too irritating for the skin and cause more pain and discomfort. One lotion that works well is calamine lotion; it is soothing and has a bit of a cold sensation that works well on irritated areas.
5. Eat the Right Foods
So we know that shingles is part of the herpes virus family. These viruses are mainly affected by a person’s L-arginine to L-lysine ratio. These natural amino acids are found in the human body, but they naturally come from foods. In order for shingles to thrive, there needs to be a greater level of L-arginine in the body compared to L-lysine.
You can find lysine in proteins, dairy, and many vegetables. Arginine can be found in nuts, chocolate, and tomatoes. Take a look at the chart below for more information on what to add to your diet, and what to cut out:
|Foods with Lysine
|Foods with Arginine
A Word to the Wise
I’m guessing you may be worried about getting shingles now. You’re trying to remember if you were diagnosed with chickenpox as a kid, or you’re taking a look at your diet and panicking because a lot of those products on the “avoid” list are in it!
Don’t panic; if you have children, make sure they get the chickenpox vaccine. If you are 60 years of age or older, get the shingles vaccine (the varicella-zoster immunization). If you get those vaccines, and keep your skin clean, you will reduce your chances of getting shingles.
Corriher, T., “How to Eliminate Shingles Quickly and Naturally Using Alternative Holistic Methods,” http://healthwyze.org/index.php/component/content/article/370-how-to-eliminate-shingles-quickly-and-naturally-using-alternative-holistic-methods.html.
Holland, K., “5 Natural Treatments for Shingles,” October 23, 2013; http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/shingles-natural-treatment#5.
Martel, J., “What is Shingles?” July 2, 2012; http://www.healthline.com/health/shingles#Overview1.
Mayo Clinic Staff, “Disease and Conditions: Shingles,” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/basics/causes/con-20019574.