Do you remember being sick with chicken pox as a child? I remember it wasn’t very pleasant. I had itchy scabs all over my body and a fever. Then they went away and life went back to normal.
Most people had a similar experience: being sick with the chicken pox for a few weeks and then never having them again.
The virus that causes chicken pox is the varicella zoster virus (VZV). It is not destroyed by the immune system when we get better, but rather goes into a dormant state in our nerve cells. Most of the time, it is not reactivated.
Some people — about 25% of adults over age 50 — experience a reactivation of VZV, likely because of decreased immune function due to stress. The reactivation can happen even if you’ve never had chicken pox but have received the chicken pox vaccine! The disease is now called shingles, and is more complex and severe than chicken pox.
Shingles begins as a tingling sensation on one side of the body. A localized cluster of blisters erupts a few days or weeks later. The cluster is most commonly found on one side of the body along the waist. “Zoster” is the Greek word for girdle. Less commonly, it appears on the forehead and on the face around the eye, where it can cause vision impairment or loss.
The severity and intensity of shingles varies greatly. Some people experience a few asymptomatic blisters, whereas others can experience searing pain. For most people with shingles, the condition subsides within a few weeks to a few months.
However, in about 10% of the population who gets shingles, it doesn’t stop there. Once the blisters have healed, a piercing, shooting pain can persist in place of the lesions, called post-herpetic neuralgia. Sometimes, it can last for years.
Conventional treatment for shingles involves taking antiviral medication, such as acyclovir, at the first sign of infection. Corticosteroids and opioids are other common treatments for pain. Many doctors now recommend a shingles vaccine for prevention. These treatments don’t work for everyone, and their side effects include nausea and vomiting, joint pain, headaches, high blood pressure, mood changes, and upset stomach.
What’s the alternative?
The best way to treat any illness is prevention. Maintain a strong immune system by eating a healthy diet consisting of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, including garlic, and exercising regularly.
If you already have shingles and taking antivirals, steroids, or getting a vaccine does not appeal to you, getting an intramuscular injection of Vitamin B12 is a common naturopathic treatment for shingles. Changing your diet to include more lysine-containing foods (i.e., meat and fish) and less arginine-containing foods (i.e., nuts, chocolate) is beneficial. Essential oils, such as bergamot and eucalyptus, can be used topically to help reduce pain and itching. Acupuncture can also help reduce pain and promote faster healing. Taking Vitamin C and lysine orally is also helpful. Last, a Myers’ cocktail, which is an intravenous injection of B vitamins and Vitamin C, is a great way to boost the immune system. The sooner after an outbreak you begin treatment, the faster the treatment will work.
If you or someone you know has shingles or post-herpetic neuralgia and you feel that you have run out of options, consider a naturopathic approach.
Please forward this newsletter to anyone who you think would benefit from this information.
Yours in health,
Lina Mockus, ND
Would you like more information or help dealing with shingles? Send me a message or request an appointment below.
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