Shingles (herpes zoster) affects the nerve cells under the skin, like other strains of herpes, and is labelled a viral infection. When triggered, shingles creates a rash of welts and lesions, usually on the torso area, and usually affecting one side or the other.Shingles lesions usually band together to form a ‘strip’ of welts, much like a belt (thus the name zoster, meaning girdle or belt in ancient Greek). Once you have shingles once, you will never get it again.
The herpes zoster virus, when it originally enters your body, causes chicken pox. After the chicken pox subsides, the virus lays dormant in the nerve cells under your skin. Although it is unclear what triggers the virus to come out of dormancy, some causes seem to be more frequent than others. When the virus ‘awakens’, it will cause shingles, not chicken pox (you can only get chicken pox and shingles once). Some common triggers for shingles include:
• Compromised Immune System: If you are ill, pregnant or older, you’re immune system may be compromised, triggering the virus to manifest as shingles presumably because your body cannot defend itself.
• Stress: As with cold sores and the Herpes Simplex Virus 1, stress can cause the herpes zoster virus to trigger and manifest as shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles
The symptoms of shingles tend to come in steps, starting with mild symptoms and slowly progressing to visible and more uncomfortable or painful symptoms. It is important to note that some people get only a mild rash or none at all. Here is a general list of the symptoms of shingles:
• photophobia (light sensitivity)
• flu like symptoms
• itchiness, pain or tingling sensation (where rash will appear)
• onset of blisters in the form of a band or strip
• blisters filled with fluid and crusting over much like cold sores
• increase in pain and itching
The rash will eventually subside, usually within 2 – 4 weeks. Scarring may be present.
PHN Postherpetic Neuralgia
For many people, the pain or itchiness disappears when the shingles rash subsides. For others, nerve damage from the virus can cause long term pain. This pain can last weeks, months and even years. The older you are, the greater your risk of PHN. If you had chicken pox as a child, and have not had shingles, it is important to speak to your doctor, particularly if you are near or over the age of 60.
Below are some home remedies to help alleviate the pain of shingles and provide shingles relief. Always talk to your doctor before diagnosing shingles and attempting any treatment method.
• Aspirin paste: crushing aspirin tablets into a paste and putting them on your rash can help alleviate the itching and pain
• Wet Dressings: applying a wet dressing to the rash can also alleviate pain. Don’t leave it on too long, and avoid warm or hot dresses.
• Aloe + Raw Honey: Making a paste from aloe vera and raw honey can help heal the rash and alleviate itching or pain
• Vitamin E: Apply small amounts of Vitamin to the rash or scabbed areas to help promote skin health and avoid scarring
• Avoid foods with amino acids such as chocolate, cereals and nuts.
• Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide can be used to dab your blisters, and reduce infection and inflammation
• Avoid Scratching: Avoid touching your blisters whenever you get the urge. Touching or scratching your blisters will not only make them more irritating, but can damage the skin and cause scarring.
The preceding remedies are for dealing with shingles pain relief while the rash is present. For people with PHN, it is best to talk to your doctor instead of trying to treat the symptoms at home. PHN is a result of actual nerve damage, and can last indefinitely. It’s worth the trip to the doctor’s office for a second opinion.