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Shingles

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A painful viral condition affecting the nerves of the skin

Also called

Herpes zoster

Symptoms

Initially, shingles is often described as a burning pain, numbness or itchiness in one particular location of the body that's generally accompanied by 3-4 days of fever, fatigue and anxiety.

These initial symptoms are then followed by a rash featuring inflammation, reddened skin and fluid-filled blisters in the same place as the initial pain, sometimes in a line called a dermatome that follows the path of the nerve in which the virus is present. Whilst sometimes mild, the pain from shingles can also be severe and debilitating and may be aggravated by stress.

Some suffer from the pain for a long time after the shingles rash disappears and this is referred to as post-herpetic neuralgia, which becomes more common with age. Described as burning, aching, piercing, or like an electric shock the pain of post-herpetic neuralgia may be intermittent or continuous over a long period, but generally lessens over time.

Causes

Shingles is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chicken pox (the varicella-zoster virus, a member of the Herpes family of viruses) and people who have had chicken pox are usually immune from getting it again.

However, the virus never truly leaves the body and can lie dormant in the spinal cord and nerve tissue for years and may reactivate and cause shingles.

Approximately 10-20% of people who have had chicken pox will suffer from Shingles with the risk increasing with age. Shingles most commonly occurs in those over 50.

Whilst not fully understood, it appears that situations affecting the immune system, such as illness, stress or trauma, can be a trigger for the virus to be re-activated. This condition is generally more common in people with weakened immune systems.

Diet and lifestyle

Supporting your immune system is essential and consuming plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a great way of doing so.

Research has shown that eating three pieces of fruit per day can greatly reduce your chance of shingles most likely due to a greater intake of vitamin C and other important nutrients.

A diet high in L-lysine and low in L-arginine may help to inhibit viruses from the herpes family and it's best to follow these dietary points:

  • Lower your intake of L-Arginine rich foods such as nuts, chocolate and sunflower seeds
  • Increase you intake of L-Lysine rich foods such as fish, milk, cheese, beef, and crustaceans

Also follow these tips when suffering from shingles that may  minimise the symptoms and severity of the condition:

  • Prevent infection, don't scratch the blisters and make sure to maintain good personal hygiene and wash the rash gently every day
  • Dilute peppermint essential oil (10% in alcohol) and apply topically as this may help to relieve post-herpetic neuralgia pain. It's important to note that you should not apply peppermint oil to your genitals, mouth or eye area. In no circumstances you should you apply this mixture to the faces of babies or small children
  • Try and rest as much as possible and make sure you avoid stress as this may weaken your immune system

If the shingles appear on the face, particularly near the nostrils or eyes, then it is important to seek medical advice immediately. Consult your Doctor if your rash persists for longer than 10 days or if it becomes infected.

Important notes

If symptoms persist, see your healthcare professional.

Get free personalised advice from our team of qualified naturopaths here

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Hello Juanita,
I'm sorry to hear of your recent bout of shingles. The nutrients you have already mentioned will support the immune system as it deals with shingles, as would zinc, vitamin A and antioxidants. To discuss your particular case further, please feel free to contact the Blackmores Advisory Service on 1800 803 760 or email advice@blackmores.com.au. All the best, Leanne (Blackmores naturopath)
Leanne
Leanne 10 Feb 2014
I have got shingles I have been to the Doctor yesterdaythe medication he gave me is Famciclovir I take everday 1 folic acid 3 fish oil and usually vitaiman C all 1000 micro grams the folic ascid I am not sure the amount I have not taken the vitiaman c I have been forgetting to get could that be the reason I have had the attack of Shingles and could you recommend a supplement for me to take as a child I did have chicken pox twice and one attack of shingles as a young adult I am now 67 years old now and I would like to prevent this happening again
Anonymous
Anonymous 10 Feb 2014
Dear Vera,
As your question was not completed I am unable to offer an appropriate response. May I suggest you contact the Naturopathic Advisory Service on 1800 803 760 from Australia or via email on advice@blackmores.com.au and we can advise in relation to your concerns.
Kind regards Michelle (Blackmores Naturopath)
MICHELLE
MICHELLE 22 Jan 2014
i have shingles could have treatment 72 hours what can do for the pain i also have cll
Anonymous
Anonymous 21 Jan 2014
Dear Yarie,
Shingles may be spread when a person comes into contact with fluid contained in the blisters. The virus can be spread by direct contact with the lesions or by touching any dressings, sheets or clothes soiled with discharge from the spots but the risk of catching the virus is really dependent on your immune system and whether it is compromised at present.
To reduce that risk and promote your body’s natural defense, I would suggest nutrients such as Zinc, Vit A and the amino acid Lysine. Lysine has been known to slow the growth of the herpes viruses. I would also suggest a liquid form of Echinacea, as it stimulates the function of immune cells within the body.
The Immune system can also been strengthened by healthy lifestyle choices and stress reducing techniques, so try gentle exercise, forms of relaxation and a healthy diet. High sugar intake and alcohol consumption can both interfere with a variety of immune functions so moderate their uses at this time.
I hope this has been of help to you
Warmest regards
Michelle (Blackmore’s Naturopath)
MICHELLE
MICHELLE 20 Sep 2013
I have not had chicken pox however one of my friends, she is about 80, has just developed Shingles. I too am mature, can I catch it from her.
Anonymous
Anonymous 19 Sep 2013
thanks for the article
Anonymous
Anonymous 20 Aug 2013
Hi Brian,

The virus which causes chicken pox (the varicella-zoster virus) can remain dormant or inactive within the body. Shingles is believed to result from a reactivation of this virus. It is thought to be not as contagious as chicken pox however, it is possible that the reactivated virus can be passed on to those without immunity to the virus, particularly children, the elderly and people with lowered immune systems. It is best to follow advice from your health care professional.

Kind regards, Leanne (a Blackmores naturopath)
Leanne
Leanne 22 Jul 2013