Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful infection caused
by a virus, the same virus – varicella zoster – that causes
chickenpox. Usually, this virus produces chicken pox in early
childhood, and then retreats into nerve cells near the spinal cord
and brain and never reappears. In some cases, however, the virus may
emerge from the nerve cells years later, mostly due to a weakened or
suppressed immune system, follow a peripheral nerve pathway from the
spinal cord or brain, and leave a rash of tiny blisters on the skin
above the pathway (zoster in Greek means ‘belt’ which denotes the
Promotes healthy immune function, and
reduces infection and illness risks in
As the virus moves out along the nerves that supply the skin,
basically the particular nerves where it was hibernating, it
causes hypersensitivity and subsequent painful rash. The pattern or
path that the symptoms follow is called a dermatome, which
essentially means the area of the skin that the nerve supplies.
Although the condition can strike anywhere, it generally affects one
side of the torso or face. The affected area aches badly during the
attack which usually lasts for 3-5 weeks. Then the symptoms simply
disappear without leaving any visible traces of the disease behind,
though, in some cases, permanent damage may occur to the nerves
through which the virus passed. The permanent damage could come in
the form of blindness if the eyes were involved (usually the cornea
gets severely affected) or result in paralysis if the infection
involved facial muscles.
Pain generally resolves rapidly or persists in the area of the rash
for months to years after the rash disappears. If proper care is not
taken at the very onset of shingles (like ignoring nutritious diet),
there is a tremendous increase in the chances of you getting
post-herpetic neuralgia, a long term side effect, where the patient
continues to experience pain. The condition is not so rare in people
above 50 years of age.
As the symptoms, rashes themselves, and the kind and history of pain
are quite typical of shingles, your doctor in all probability won’t
need to perform any tests to confirm the disease. Still if things
are not certain, a Tzanck test may be performed along with some
nerve segments affected by shingles can be those:
Of the ribs (usually a narrow area over the ribs) or on
one side of the lower part of the body (waist).
Basically, the trunk (torso, your main part of the body
other then the arms, legs and head) area is the affected
part in more than half of the cases
On one side of the face including the tongue, the ear or
the eye (a very dangerous situation)
On a strip on the neck around the shoulders
Down one of the arms or even legs
attack works in stages. Broadly these stages are:
Phase 1 – A burning sensation or a dull ache along the
peripheral nerve segment. In certain cases, the pain is
severe and the skin above the nerve hypersensitive, so
much so that even the most loose of the clothes make you
feel extremely sensitive.
Phase 2 – There is an appearance of red plaques
interspersed with blisters, usually accompanied by
Phase 3 – After, 2-3 days, these blisters dry up and get
replaced by scabs that in turn fall off after around ten
days. Generally, a white mark is left by these departing
scabs, which takes some more time to go off.
Other symptoms, some of which are general while others case
Malaise (feeling bad overall) including muscle aches
Swollen lymph nodes
Visual disturbances, drooping eyelid, loss of eye motion
(when a nerve in a eye gets affected or the nerve in the
muscles surrounding your eye, including eyelids, get
Taste buds abnormalities (when a nerve of your tongue is
We know the culprit – it is the varicella zoster virus of the herpes
family. Now, the question is: what makes the virus which was
hibernating or dormant for so many years (it is usually ‘so many
years’ in most of the cases although young people and children also
suffer from shingles), come back and play havoc with your body? The
answer most of the times is a suppressed immune system.
This occurs when your immune system is weakened by:
HIV infection or AIDS
After an organ transplant as the recipient is given
immunosuppressant to avoid rejection of the new organ
Mental or physical fatigue
Stress and depression
Cancer, particularly leukemia, Hodgkin's disease and
Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus,
multiple sclerosis, and Crohn's disease) and by taking
drugs that suppress your immune system in order to
control the inflammation from any of these conditions
People who had chickenpox before their first birthday
Also, the area of the attack may be linked to a weakness in the
corresponding internal organ.
is best treated immediately to alleviate the pain and reduce the
risk of other complications. Prescription medications that can
provide relief include oral antiviral medications. Corticosteroids
may also be prescribed to reduce swelling and pain associated with
shingles. In addition, painkillers, antidepressants as well as
anticonvulsants may also be prescribed to help treat shingles.
Topical ointments such as calamine lotion can soothe the affected
treatments help immensely to boost the immune system which is
especially important when you develop shingles. Treatments such as
herbal and homeopathic remedies are gentle to use and improve your
overall health and wellbeing without the risk of side effects.
Use herbs such as Hypoxis rooperi (extract of African Potato) and
Viscum album to strengthen the immune system.
Astragalus membranaceus acts a rejuvenating tonic and also helps to
combat fatigue. Olea europea (extract of olive leaf) and Echinacea
are two very useful herbs that have well known anti-bacterial and
Immune Boosting in Adults:
Hypoxis Rooperi (extract of African Potato) -
Hypoxis contains phytosterols and sterolins, which help
to modulate the effect of the immune system. Research
has shown the beneficial effect of plant sterols and sterolins on the immune system. Research done on a group
of volunteers demonstrated a significant increase in the
number of T-cells, which are involved in enhancing
Agothosma betulina (Buchu) - This is a urinary
antiseptic and possesses diuretic properties. Buchu has
been used by the natives of the Western Cape of South
Africa for many centuries and assists the body to rid
itself of toxins by stimulating the secretion of
Viscum album - This herb acts as a natural
diuretic, and vasodilator, supporting the natural
strength of capillary walls and the body’s natural
ability to encourage repair of damaged cells.
Olea europea (extract of
olive leaf) - This herb
contains a compound called oleuropein acid that is
effective in helping the body to routinely combat
numerous pathogens (germs). The positive effects of
Olive leaf have recently been demonstrated in a variety
of clinical studies.
Boosting in Children:
Echinacea purpurea (American
coneflower) is a Native American herb that has
become famous for its tonic effect on the immune system.
The roots of this herb contain polysaccharides that give
a tremendous boost to the immune system. This herb has a
property if inducing phagocytosis, a process in which
foreign bodies get engulfed by the immune cells.
Echinacea not only is a perfect remedy for colds and
upper respiratory infections but also restores the
natural immune system of the body quickly.
Astragalus membranaceous (Chinese
name, 'Huang qi') is a potent yet child-safe Chinese
remedy that has a variety of benefits as an
immune-supportive and rejuvenating tonic. Studies have
shown Astragalus to maintain immune responses
Inula helenium (Wild Sunflower) is
associated with Helen of Troy by legend, and has been
used since the days of the Roman poet Horace. It is very
effective as an encouraging respiratory tonic and is
widely respected for its support of good health.
For External Applications:
Aloe ferox is a succulent and well-known
therapeutic herb native to South Africa. Aloe ferox has
many different uses and writings from as early as 1500BC
in Ancient Egypt document its supportive uses. For
centuries this herb has been used topically to support
skin health. European sailors routinely used the sap for
skin that was exposed to the elements, rope burns, and
salt water exposure. Studies and research have also
investigated Aloe ferox for it’s supportive benefits on
Urtica urens, used topically, is a well-regarded
choice to help support the skin and soothe common
Lavendula officinalis (Lavender) is a
sweet-smelling essential oil that also has strong
supportive properties for the skin. This oil also has
soothing properties. Lavender is valued for its calming
properties and is wonderful for soothing common
discomfort and promoting relaxation of the spirit!
Melaleuca laterifolia is also known as Tea Tree
Oil and is used externally. This oil has wonderful
soothing and calming properties for the skin. Numerous
studies have been conducted to investigate Tea Tree Oil
for its effect on skin health.
Hamamelis virginianum (Witchhazel) is an
excellent astringent herb which has been used by Native
Americans for generations. It can be used to support the
skin in the cases of non-serious insect bites and common
sunburn and grazes. Witchhazel helps to maintain routine
levels of healthy bacteria in the body. This herb has
been the subject of numerous studies due to its
potential to support the skin while soothing common
itchiness and irritation.
Potent antioxidants rich diet helps in preventing
inflammation. Vitamin C, B12 & E, zinc & bioflavonoids
are important to give a fillip to the immune system and
regenerate and rebuild nerve cells (Particularly Vitamin
C and B12). Supplements are advised at the very onset of
the problem, but only under proper medical guidance.
Adenosine monophosphate (AMP) is an intermediary
substance formed during the body’s process of creating
energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from
food. People with herpes zoster infections are generally
found to have low levels of AMP. Supplements of AMP may
be administered under the supervision of a qualified
Lysine is an essential amino acid needed for growth and
to help maintain nitrogen balance in the body.
(Essential amino acids cannot be made in the body and
must be supplied by the diet or supplements.) The amino
acid arginine is required by the herpes virus for growth
while lysine inhibits this growth. It is believed that
severe bouts of shingles are brought up by the lowering
of the vitality. This imbalance can be corrected by
taking more lysine containing foods and avoiding arginine containing foods.
It also speeds up the
Good dietary sources of the above nutrients are:
Lysine: meat (specifically red meat, pork, and
poultry), cheese (particularly parmesan), certain fish
(such as cod and sardines), nuts, eggs, soybeans
(particularly tofu, isolated soy protein, and defatted
soybean flour), spirulina, and fenugreek seed.
Zinc: Shellfish (especially oysters) and nuts are
rich sources of zinc. Other sources include red meats,
poultry, cheese (ricotta, Swiss, Gouda), shrimp, crab,
legumes (especially lima beans, black-eyed peas, and
soybeans), whole grains, tofu, brewer's yeast, cooked
greens, mushrooms, green beans, tahini, and pumpkin and
Vitamin C: Diet containing fresh fruits and
vegetables should provide you with enough vitamin C in a
day although emphasis must be given on citrus fruits
(fresh fruits in totality and not their juice only) like
grapes and blackberries, as they also contain bioflavonoids. Some important fruits and vegetables are
blackcurrant, vegetables (broccoli, potatoes), red
capsicums and chillies, strawberry, kiwifruit and
Vitamin E: Its sources include avocados, nuts, seed
oils, sunflower seeds, green leafy vegetables, eggs,
pumpkin seeds and wheat germ.
Vitamin B12: liver, fish, milk, lean meat, poultry,
seafood, eggs, fortified soya drink. Remember, folic
acid supplements may hide deficiency of vitamin B12 and
hence you better get yourself checked for its deficiency
if your folate intake is good enough.
Arginine containing foods such as chocolate, nuts,
peanuts, cola, peas, grain cereals, cashews, beer and
Reduce your intake of alcohol and caffeine, which is
found in coffee, tea and colas. This will help maintain
a healthy immune system.
Due to pretty high level of contagion, you should avoid
contact with other people, particularly those who are
weak (low resistance power due to suppressed or weakened
immunity system) and also those who have never had
chickenpox in their life.
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Make sure that your infected areas are kept clean and
Apply a wet dressing (cold compress) on the affected
nerve. Dip a washcloth in cold water and squeeze. Place
it over the affected area. This should provide a lot of
comfort. Ice is also a substitute.
As heat macerates the delicate skin with all the
blisters on, safeguard the affected area from any kind
of heat source.
As the itch may not be there, you may feel convenient to
scratch or rub the affected area. Never do it as the
blisters may burst and become infected.