If you are experiencing a tingling, burning sensation in the skin on one side of your body, it may be that you are about to experience an outbreak of shingles. This is a common illness that affects over one million Americans a year, and can strike at any age if you have previously suffered from chickenpox.
What is Shingles?
Shingles is a viral disease caused by the herpes virus; its medical name is Herpes Zoster. It is characterized by a painful skin rash that first appears as reddened welts, and usually appears in a stripe formation down one side of the body.
The same virus that causes shingles also causes chickenpox; after the initial manifestation of chickenpox, the virus can lay dormant in the nervous system for many years before reappearing in the more aggressive form of shingles, and whereas chickenpox is largely considered a childhood illness, shingles most commonly affects those over the age of 65.
What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?
The symptoms are generally limited to the skin, and primarily consist of a painful rash that can include oozing blisters which scab over as the rash heals, and the sensations of itching and burning. In severe cases, sufferers will also experience headaches and fevers, as well as exhaustion and achiness, like you may experience with flu.
Some shingles sufferers describe it in very dramatic terms, highlighting the discomfort it can cause. Molly Allen, a former shingles sufferer described it as feeling like someone had taken a cheese grater to her skin, and then “poured battery acid on it.” Other sufferers have reported numbness in their skin, or shooting pains.
Is Shingles Dangerous?
Although sometimes incredibly painful, shingles is not generally considered life threatening. However, it does pose certain risks to those who experience an outbreak on their face, since it can affect the eyes if it spreads to them. In very rare cases, shingles can also affect hearing, and potentially cause pneumonia.
Unfortunately for some sufferers, the pain caused by shingles stays around long after the outbreak has cleared up; this is called post-herpetic neuralgia, and is much more prevalent in older sufferers.
There is no known cure for shingles, but there are a multitude of treatments, which can lessen the symptoms and shorten the length of the outbreak.
Natural Treatments for Shingles:
If you think you are suffering from shingles, it’s important that you visit the doctor to be diagnosed and treated in the most effective way possible. Treatments generally include anti-virals, painkillers, and in some cases antidepressants. However, once you are on your course of medicines, there are some things you can also do at home, to lessen your symptoms:
Pineapples are rich in proteolytic enzymes, which are the kind of enzymes we produce in our own pancreas, and that are used to breakdown proteins. A German study showed that these enzymes were as effective as anti-virals at calming the rash of shingles, and going some way towards relieving the pain.
Use Capsaicin Cream:
Capsaicin is the active ingredient found in chilies that give them their kick! In cream form, it is shown to be very effective at relieving the pain and itch of the shingles rash. But just like when you handle chilies, you need to be careful when handling this cream! Avoid delicate areas of skin like around the eyes, and wash hands thoroughly after applying the cream.
Sooth with Calamine Lotion:
Just as your mother may have dabbed it on your chickenpox, calamine lotion can also be incredibly soothing on your shingles rash. Be liberal, and just like with chicken pox, do try to resist the itch- your rash will clear up much quicker if you do.
Eat Plenty of Garlic:
Garlic has antiviral properties, and is known as an all-round health booster, that will help your immune system get the shingles virus back under control. If you don’t like the taste of garlic, supplement capsules are an easy way of getting all the benefits without any of the flavour.
Try Cold Compresses:
One of the most uncomfortable sensations caused by shingles is a burning feeling that usually occurs just before the rash breaks out into blisters. Fight this by using cold compresses to sooth the skin and lower inflammation. Try not to apply ice directly to the skin, since it can cause burns; instead wrap a few cubes in a clean face cloth, and apply for five minutes at a time. Avoid very hot showers or baths, as this will aggravate the rash and cause further inflammation.
What the Press Says:
What People On The Web Say:
I developed shingles last winter after a few upsetting months. I didn’t really notice at first, just had a small red rash on my left side and chest that itched and grew more painful. Then it flared up really quickly and thought I’d best get down the doctors, who said yep, it’s shingles. Couldn’t wear a bra for a few days as it was right across my chest, but it cleared up after taking medicine. Left scars which are still there, and I get occasional pains where the infection was. Not nice.
I recognized the first out break on my husband and sent him to the Clinic right away. The doctor said it was wonderful that he came in within a week of the first sign, and gave him a post herpetic drug to take that would minimize the pain if it returned. The outbreak went no further.
Day 1-2: joint/nerve pain in right shoulder blade area, fatigue.
Day 3-4: shingles rash developed under my right armpit from right nipple to right shoulder blade. Went to see doctor, and he prescribed Famciclovir.
Day 5: The rash became “bubbly”, and I felt fatigued.
Day 6-7? The pain in the joints went, although I had a mild fever (37.2C) and severe migraines. (Not really sure what causes migraines: Shingles or Famciclovir).
I’m at day 8 right now. Still have a bubbly rash, but no fever, migraine or fatigue. Hope to get better soon!