Every year shingles lands thousands of people into the local hospitals for treatment. Shingles (also called herpes zoster, or just zoster) is a painful skin rash, usually with blisters. In addition to the rash, shingles can cause fever, headache, chills, or upset stomach. More rarely, it can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation, or even death. Shingles is a common condition that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Current statistics indicate that shingles occurs in approximately 20 percent of the general population. It is more common with age, and at least 50 percent of the cases occur in people over 50. For those who live to 80 or beyond, about 50 percent of them will experience an outbreak. The most feared manifestation or consequence of shingles is something called postherpetic neuralgia( PHN). The pain from PHN can be severe and debilitating. The pain secondary to PHN can persist after the outbreak of the rash has been put into remission. It can sometimes last for months or years.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), also known as human herpes virus-3 (HHV-3). This virus is related to herpes simplex virus types 1 & 2. The initial infection with (VZV) results in chickenpox (varicella). Despite recovery from this illness, the virus lies dormant in the sensory nerve roots of the spinal cord for years or decades in some cases, until it becomes active again and is then classified as herpes zoster. The condition is then diagnosed as shingles. It is unknown why the virus becomes active again, but age-associated immune dysfunction and stress are major factors.
It is estimated that 9 of 10 adults have had chickenpox and are at risk of shingles later in life. Shingles arise from viruses that are already within the body and are not caught from someone else. Someone who has never had chickenpox has a low risk of contracting that illness from close contact with the shingles rash. VZV infection typically occurs through the inhalation of virus particles. Chickenpox, on the other hand, is highly contagious because in that disease virus is shed from the throat into the air that others breathe. Because this does not occur in shingles, it is not very contagious, and regular hand-washing with soap and water minimizes the risk.
Typical Symptoms Associated With Shingles
Shingles has two primary symptoms: rash and pain. More generalized symptoms include enlarged, tender lymph nodes draining the affected area and occasional mild fatigue. The affected area is generally red with small vesicles or blisters. Several blisters per area are common in shingles. New lesions may occur for up to one week, after which the rash shows signs of healing. Some lesions may end up scarring, which can be permanent. Typically, the rash lasts 2-5 weeks.
Pain is the other primary symptom with shingles and may precede the rash where it is called prodromal pain. The skin and the dermatomes (nerve endings on the skin) become very sensitive to pain. The dermatome areas most commonly involved are the trunk ( flank areas) palms, inner arms, legs, feet, and face. The trigeminal nerve in the facial area can be a common site that may lead to the spread of the rash near the eyes, which can be quite dangerous. Shingles in the eye can cause glaucoma, scarring, and a serious condition called acute retinal necrosis that can cause blindness. Because shingles can cause such serious problems, the recombinant shingles vaccine is recommended for people over 60 years of age.
Complications of Shingles
Pain that persists more than 30 days after the appearance of the rash is the most feared consequence of herpes zoster. The burning or stabbing pain of PHN is attributed to virus-induced damage to the nerve roots.
PHN has been associated with the following four key factors:
- Age: people over 50 have about a 50% chance of PHN
- Prodromal pain: pre-rash
- Severe acute pain
- Failure to obtain adequate antiviral treatment within 3 days of the appearance of the rash
Standard Shingles Treatment
The standard treatment of shingles uses two types of drugs, analgesics (pain relievers) and antiviral prescription medicines. The goal is obvious: to resolve pain rapidly because the pain that persists and worsens predisposes patients to PHN by permanently sensitizing nerves to even the mildest stimulation. The other primary objective in therapy is to stop virus replication. It is critical to stop the virus from reproducing itself, thereby minimizing the damage it does to nerve cells.
Natural Remedies And Nutritional Supplements For Shingles
Natural products can be part of the therapeutic regimen when it comes to dealing with a case of shingles. They do not replace the standard shingles treatment, but they can complement it.
The nutritional supplements and plant extracts helpful for shingles and PHN fall into four categories:
- antiviral/anti-inflammatory properties
- immune-enhancing supplements
- supplements that support recovery
- topical and miscellaneous natural pain relievers
Supplements included in the antiviral, anti-inflammatory category include flaxseed oil, omega-3 fish oils, and turmeric. All of these have anti-inflammatory properties, and turmeric also demonstrates antiviral properties. Also, green tea extract exhibits antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant potential.
Supplements that support recovery primarily focus on the typical antioxidants vitamins A, C, and E, which oxidize molecules within cells.
I would not overlook the value of pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil in topical applications, including balms, salves, lotions, and roll-ons, as well as either CBD capsules or sublingual liquid tinctures to decrease inflammation and pain as well as accelerate wound healing.
Many times, your best therapeutic options come from blending conventional drugs with natural remedies and nutritional supplements. It is highly recommended that adults 60 years and older get the recombinant shingles vaccine called Shingrix, too, which is available at your local pharmacy.