What is Shingles?
Shingles, also known as Herpes Zoster virus, is a viral infection that affects the nerve endings in the skin. The infection can happen anywhere on the body; however, it is observed to be common on the skin of the abdominal area underneath the ribs, on the neck, face and scalp, inside the mouth and in women at the vaginal tissues. This condition is commonly characterized by a painful rash and a maddening itch right at the infected areas. It usually appears as a band of rash and blisters. The pain and rashes usually last from 2-4 weeks.
What causes Shingles?
Varicella-zoster virus is the main cause of shingles. The virus falls under the group of herpes viruses. The Varicella-zoster virus is the same virus that causes chicken pox. After chicken pox has run its full course, the virus itself remains in the body and lies dormant in the spinal chord and nerve ganglia for many years. A re-activation of this dormant virus is what causes shingles. This is usually many years later and certainly does not happen to everyone who has had chicken pox.
There are many factors that may cause the re-activation of the virus from its dormant phase: factors such as stress, illness, a poor immune system, cancer and the use of anticancer drugs, spinal cord injuries and conditions that suppress the immune system as in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) pose greater risks of activating the virus.
Although the disease mainly affects people as they get older, as their immune system ages, shingles can occur at any age.
Any weakening of the human immune system increases the risk of activating the varicella-zoster virus. Then will it cause an infection, affecting the nerve endings and causing them to send impulses of severe pain, itching or burning to the brain, making the skin more sensitive than usual.
Thankfully, shingles is not normally a life-threatening condition. However, in someone with an already compromised immune system the virus can possibly spread to vital organs.
Is Shingles contagious?
Shingles is contagious until all the blisters have scabbed over and become dry. If you come into contact with someone who has shingles you can only catch chickenpox from them, and if you have already had chickenpox you should then be immune – although a small number of people do get chickenpox twice. You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles.
If you are pregnant or have a weak immune system you should avoid all contact with someone who has shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles
The shingles rash can become maddeningly itchy and extremely painful and can leave permanent scars in areas that break out with blisters. Many people just find relief in the thought that the condition is normally short-lived. With the use of medications, any infections on the blistered areas can be avoided or reduced and the pain and the itch may be relieved.
Usually only one nerve is affected by the virus and the symptoms of rashes and pain then occur in the area of skin that the nerve connects to. Sometimes two or three nerves alongside each other can be affected. The most common nerves to be affected are those which supply the skin on the chest or abdomen, but the upper face and eye area is also a common site.
Aside from the blisters and rash, a person suffering from shingles has a heightened sensitivity to touch. In some cases, the afflicted person may suffer from pain only and not have the rash. This is one reason why this condition is often mistaken for problems such as kidney stones, gallstones, appendicitis and even heart attack depending on the location where the pain was felt and the severity of the pain.
Some very common symptoms for shingles include:
• Itchiness, pain, numbness, tingling sensations or extreme sensitivity on certain areas of the body
• Light to intense red rash that precedes the pain
• Blisters filled with fluid, with a break open crust cover
• Fevers and chills
• Upset stomach or abdominal pain
• Muscle Spasms
Compared to the rash, pain and itchiness that are felt with chicken pox, the varicella-zoster virus usually brings even more of the pain, itch and rash and so is much more uncomfortable and painful than chickenpox.
The main complication from shingles is known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and this is where the nerve pain continues after the rash and other symptoms have gone. This is more common on people over the age of 50 and in fact 1 in 4 people over the age of 60 have nerve pain that continues for more than one month. The older a person is the greater chance there is of continuous pain. In time this pain gradually goes, but for some people it can last for months.
Treatments for Shingles
Actually, no medicine can actually cure shingles. Just like with other viral infections, the approach available is used to control further infection and find relief from the symptoms. The most common treatments used to relieve the symptoms include antiviral medicines, over-the-counter pain relief drugs and topical antibiotics. Antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir, are often given to attempt to stop the virus from multiplying. Over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen can also help manage the pain and the fever that sometimes comes as a symptom of shingles. The topical antibiotics are used on the blisters to control or prevent infection.
Diet & Lifestyle
If you have shingles wear loose cotton clothes. A non-adhesive dressing may help to protect the blisters from coming in contact with clothing.
The virus tends to replicate when the body has high levels of the amino acid arginine. Lysine is an amino acid that inhibits the replication and growth of the virus. It also helps keep low levels of arginine. Since the varicella-zoster falls under the same category where other herpes viruses lie, it would help to have a diet that promotes high lysine intake.
This would explain why a doctor/health professional might advise shingle sufferers and people who are at high risk of developing the condition to avoid nuts, peanuts and chocolate, foods that has high arginine-to-lysine ratio. Instead, they should increase their intake of foods high in lysine which include most vegetables that are high in antioxidants, eggs, chicken and fish.
Just like other viral infections, steps can be taken to try and avoid shingles. If you have already been afflicted with chicken pox, changes can be made to reduce your risk of developing shingles.
Look after your body and focus on Immune Support. There is much that can be done to support the body.
Please contact us if you need personal advice
NB. This information is in no way intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are unsure as to the suitability of any of the products or recommendations with regard to your condition please consult your doctor. If your doctor does not approve of complementary medicine it may be helpful to find one who does.