Shingles (Herpes zoster) occurs, mainly in people over 60, when the varicella zoster (chicken pox) virus is reactivated from its latent state in the nerve root:
- The virus may be reactivated by physical and/or emotional stress and certain medications including steroids such as Prednisone, Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
- Shingles is more likely to develop in people who have a weakened immune system
- Lesions appear on the skin along the path of the infected nerves in the form of small blisters (vesicles), usually on just one side of the chest back or face, with intense neuralgic (nerve) pain and itching
- Pain along the site of the future eruption usually precedes the rash by 2-3 days
- Shingles generally runs its course in 3-5 weeks BUT in people with weakened immunity there may be nasty complications. The most common is continuation of the pain after the rash has disappeared. This is known as Post-herpetic Neuralgia:
- It occurs in 10-15% of Shingles patients and in 50% of those aged 60 or older
- The cause is herpes-zoster induced damage to the nerve roots so that they persist in sending pain messages to the brain
Before the year 2000, Shingles was relatively rare and this is thought to be because ongoing contact between children with chicken pox and the adults in their lives gave the adults a degree of immunity from Shingles. Since the introduction of a chicken pox vaccine in the mid 1990’s. there are far fewer cases of chicken pox.
The best way to avoid Shingles is to minimise and manage the levels of physical and emotional stress in your life while maintaining a high level of general immunity by leading a healthy lifestyle that includes an excellent diet, appropriate exercise and adequate good quality sleep. Clearly, provided you had chicken pox as a child, it will also be helpful to arrange for contact with any children in your family or social networks who develop chicken pox.
At the core of any natural therapies regime, designed either to prevent or to manage Shingles, will be close attention to a healthy diet and lifestyle, to effective stress management and to addressing any ongoing emotional issues. In addition, there are many natural remedies that can be very helpful in managing the condition and an appropriate selection would be made to provide optimal support in each individual case. The remedies include various herbs and supplements to support general immunity, others that exert an anti-viral effect and several that can support healing and help reduce the intensity of the pain.