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A painful viral condition affecting the nerves of the skin

Also called

Herpes zoster


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.


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.

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is shingles contagious
Anonymous 22 Jul 2013
Pat, I’m sorry to hear of your diagnosis of shingles and understand how painful and uncomfortable this condition can be. The nutrients and therapies mentioned above may assist you in managing the symptoms of shingles and would certainly be worth trying: getting plenty of rest, reducing stress where ever possible, immune supporting herbs along with antioxidants such as vitamin C and E and minerals zinc, selenium and magnesium. You could also try the topical application of peppermint essential oil (10% in alcohol). This may ease the pain.

Larni, your rash does sound like it may be shingles but it’s important to see a doctor to have your rash diagnosed. In the longer term you may benefit from seeing a naturopath in private practice to address all of your symptoms and to assist you in achieving optimal health.

Kind regards, Leanne (Blackmores naturopath)
Leanne 01 Jul 2013
I am unsure as to whether I have shingles. I have a painful, itchy rash that extends from the right collar bone to the left. At times it feels crusty. Sometimes there is a sensation like an electric shock. I find it hard to have clothing touch it. Unfortunately, we are now into winter and have no choice with the clothing. I also have MS. I am not on medication for it as what they have doesn't work. I'm not too sure what natural therapy to use.
Anonymous 01 Jul 2013
I have been diagnosed with left sided shingles on my breast and back . I have been prescribed Famivor and have taken this for almost 1 week, yet the pain in my back (left side persists, can you just any natural therapies?
Anonymous 24 Jun 2013
Dear Karen,
I am sorry to hear about your accident Karen. May I suggest you contact the Naturopathic Advisory Service on 1800 803 760 from Australia or via email on for more individual information to help you achieve improved health. In the meantime, consider vitamin C, E, A and zinc as nutrients to support the immune system, in addition to herbs like echinacea and garlic. You may find a wash mouth with celtic sea salt of some help with your tooth abscess. Kind regards, Gina (Blackmores naturopath)

Gina 08 May 2013
I recently had a motorcycle accident and since this occurred my immune system appears to have gone into hibernation, I have had an abscess in my tooth and then have developed shingles. What can I do to boost my immune system and cope with the effects of shingles
Anonymous 08 May 2013
Hi Colin,
Thank you for your post.
I’m so sorry to hear that you wife has developed shingles, and is in pain.
You may like to try some of the things suggested in the post above to help relieve pain and support normal nerve function.
Herbs such as passionflower, hops and St john’s wort have been used traditionally to treat nerve pain. You may also find that supplementing the diet with magnesium, and applying diluted peppermint oil may also be helpful.
Seeing a naturopath or other complementary healthcare practitioner in private practice may also be something to consider.
I hope this information is of help to you and Nancy.
Kind regards,
Charmaine (Blackmores Naturopath)
Charmaine 29 Apr 2013
wife- nancye-aged 75 contracted Shingles 12 April while on a cruise
Treated in ship medical centre with 5 tablets a day for 7 days
Was told this treatment cannot be repeated- hopefully being early it would help
Now home - our doctor has seen her - said there was nothing extra could be done- simply pain management.
She is experiencing considerable pain - is there any treatment that can help with the pain
Anonymous 29 Apr 2013