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More than a million Americans suffer with shingles each year. It is an itchy, blistering rash caused by the varicella zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chicken pox. If you had chicken pox as a child, there is a likelihood that you will have shingles much later in life because the virus remains dormant in your body for years. It can become reactivated by a weakened immune system. [1]

Symptoms include

  • Tingling Sensation – this virus infects nerve roots and presents initially as tingling sensations or extreme sensitivity in a localized area of the body. This sensitivity can include tingling, itching, and burning for no apparent reason before the rash appears. The most common sites are the back, the chest, the stomach, the face, the neck, the head, or one arm or leg. It almost never affects both sides of the body at once.
  • Nausea – in the beginning, you may experience nausea and a persistently upset stomach. This develops into a flu-like syndrome. You will not necessarily experience a rise in body temperature, even if you feel feverish.
  • Headache – caused by neuropathic pain in the cranial nerves and nerve roots, this headache can not be alleviated by over the counter headache medications. Sadly, this condition can continue for some time after the disease has run its course.
  • Fever – if you do get one, it will be exceeded 101 degrees F. The best treatment for fever is bed rest and plenty of fluids. If additional symptoms including a stiff neck, breathing problems, a very severe headache or if the fever persists for more than a few days, seek immediate medical care.
  • Chills – another early symptom occurring early on, due to fluctuations in body temperature, is the immune system’s natural response to a viral infection. Manage these by covering up if you feel cold and uncovering when you feel warmer. Avoid strenuous activity and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Muscle Pain – often an early warning sign, presents as painful tingling, like piercing needles in the ski of the arms and legs. This another lingering symptom that can be present even after the shingles has died down.
  • Extreme Fatigue – another pre-breakout symptom, this feeling of lack of energy for no apparent reason may lead to longer periods spent sleeping.
  • Rash – appears as painful, fluid-filled blisters contained only on one side of the body. Since the virus affects localized nerve roots, the rash remains directly connected to those exact areas for about 7 to 10 days. The blisters initially are filled with a clear fluid, but after a few days, the fluid becomes cloudy and takes on a darker, murkier hue. The flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes usually precede the appearance of a rash.
  • Eye Issues – can occur if the virus spreads to nerves that connect to the eyes. This will cause eye pain in bright environments, and can cause an eye infection like conjunctivitis. This inflammation will develop a thickening of the eye fluids, that accumulates on the eye lashes and can cause the lashed to stick together while sleeping. Rinse with saline solution or artificial tears to keep the eyes moist. Eye inflammation issues are serious and can result in vision impairments. If you develop them, see a doctor immediately.
  • Sensitivity to Touch – another pre-breakout symptom can make daily activities uncomfortable. Usually peaks within a week of rash appearance and subsides as patient’s condition improves, but can linger longer for a few people.
  • Shingles is most often diagnosed by your doctor solely based on the appearance of the characteristic rash.[2]
  • Some antiviral drugs may reduce shingle pain. [3]
  • There are some natural remedies that can help reduce pain and discomfort including:
    • Healing baths – daily cleansing of blisters reduces the spread of the infection. Take a cool bath or shower to soothe skin. A 15-20 minute soak in a colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch in lukewarm bathwater may help. Dry your body completely and then wash your towel to avoid spreading the virus to others. (Young children or pregnant women who have not had chicken pox could get chicken pox. Shingles is not contagious as shingles to others).
    • Wet, cool compresses – can relieve pain and itchiness when applied several times throughout the day. Do not apply ice packs, they will increase skin sensitivity and worsen pain
    • Baking Soda and Corn Starch paste – make a two part soda or cornstarch to one part water paste. Apply to rash and then rinse off after 10-15 minutes. Repeat as needed.
    • Soothing lotions – without perfumes or scents may increase your comfort level. Apply topical ointments containing capsaicin 3-4 time a day. This has an anti-inflammatory effect to ease pain. Calamine lotion applied after baths can also help dry out blisters.
    • Dietary modification – eating a healthy diet containing foods with vitamins A, B-12, C, and E, and the amino acid lysine. Avoid food and juices with high amounts of sugar, chocolate, gelatin and nuts, refined carbohydrates and foods high in saturated fat.
    • Homeopathic or herbal remedies – be sure to consult your doctor before using these. Some supplements and herbal medicines that may help include: melatonin, St John’s Wort, oregano oil, echinacea, lemon balm.

Shingles is not a life-threatening disease, but some people experience long lasting pain because nerve fibers are damaged. Pain may last for weeks or months after the rash clears. [4]

A shingles vaccine was introduced in 2006 that was for people 60 or older and only about 70% effective in offering full protection against the virus. Currently there is a new shingles vaccine rolling out that healthcare experts say is a real game changer. The vaccine, Shingrix, is recommended for healthy adults 50 and older to prevent shingles.This new vaccine, administered in two doses, between 2 and 6 months apart, does have about three days of of flu-like symptoms, a typical response to vaccines, but no rash or persistent pain. [5]



Billie Nicholson, Editor
April 2018

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