A bad case of shingles is one of the most miserable of maladies. This relative of chickenpox, officially known as herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus. If you have had chickenpox earlier in life, there is a 20 percent chance you may suffer an outbreak of shingles at some point later in life. The virus tends to lay dormant in the body until the immune system is vulnerable, perhaps from diabetes, HIV, radiation treatment, immunosuppressive drugs such as corticosteroids, or emotional stress.
The virus generally travels along the nerves to the skin, causing inflammation and extreme pain. Unless the patient has a severely compromised immune system, the outbreak will usually clear up on its own. Be aware, however: If the outbreak occurs around the eyes or forehead, you need to see a doctor immediately, as the disease can cause blindness in that situation.
Your doctor will have prescription treatments to offer, but you may also want to use natural remedies. Here are eight natural ways to keep yourself as comfortable as possible during an outbreak of shingles:
1. Warm baths – Try adding colloidal oatmeal, which is extra soothing and healing. Take the baths in moderation, as you don’t want to dry out the skin, especially after the blisters have dried up.
2. Apple cider vinegar compresses – Put half a cup of raw apple cider vinegar in two cups of lukewarm filtered water, and soak a compress in the solution. Apply the compress to the affected skin two to four times daily, for about ten minutes. This helps dry the blisters; once the blisters are gone, discontinue this treatment.
3. Raw honey – Some people have found the application of raw honey to be helpful.
4. Essential oils – Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, author of Medical Aromatherapy, says “Our greatest success in the treatment of shingles is by applying a blend of 50% ravensara and 50% calophyllum inophyllum (oil of tamanu). Drastic improvements and complete remissions occur within seven days.” As always, essential oils should be delivered in a carrier oil such as almond oil.
5. Capsaicin skin ointment – Application of this treatment has proven helpful in many cases.
6. Grapefruit seed extract – Grapefruit seed extract can be taken orally and used topically, as well. This is a powerful extract that should always be diluted with distilled water before use internally or externally. If you are on any medication, check with your doctor, as grapefruit interferes with the efficacy of some medicines.
7. Lithium orotate – Three to four capsules per day have been reported to greatly reduce pain and itching, including the residual effects that sometimes last months or even years after the lesions have resolved. In fact, lithium is a powerful antiviral agent against herpes infections of all kinds.
8. Enzymes – A German study showed that the use of proteolytic enzymes for 14 days was as effective in treating shingles as the use of the drug acyclovir. Trevinol Professional is a brand of proteolytic enzyme that is frequently recommended.
Natural health professionals counsel caution in the use of the shingles vaccine. They note that the incidence of shingles has increased significantly since 1995, when the government began recommending that children be given the chickenpox vaccine.