Dealing with Shingles Symptoms: Personal Experiences and Treatment Tips

Early treatment of shingles symptoms can reduce their severity. First-hand accounts of people with shingles can teach you how to overcome it.

Woman scratching her back

An episode of shingles, clinically known as herpes zoster, causes a painful and often itchy rash on the skin area supplied by infected nerves. The rash appears like a stripe, usually only on one side of the body, though they may appear on both sides. This condition is due to the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. A condition that usually lasts for two to four weeks, shingles symptoms can present on any part of the body but commonly involve the abdomen, chest, and back. It may also affect the face and eyes. 

How Two Individuals Deal with Shingle Symptoms  

Understanding the symptoms of shingles can go a long way towards reducing the severity of symptoms and the risk of developing complications. Here are first-hand accounts of people who have managed to overcome the shingles rash and improve their quality of life.

“My high-paced lifestyle slowly caught up to me.” – Chin San 

Woman sleeping on her bed in a dark lit room.
Getting enough sleep can help to strengthen the immune system against infections like shingles.

An accomplished professional, Chin San was diagnosed with shingles at 32. Presenting with a painful fluid-filled vesicular rash as a patch on the right side of her back, she initially sought conventional clinical treatment. However, the prescription she received did not offer relief. This led her to homoeopathic medicine, which helped ease her pain and prevent the rash from spreading.

A herb called Ranunculus bulbosus was recommended to alleviate her back’s painful and intense itching. In addition, the herb helped relieve the bluish vesicles, which worsened with physical touch or direct contact with clothing fabrics. “I struggled immensely with shingles, especially when I want to change my clothes,” answered Chin San when asked about how she coped with the condition. 

To prevent recurring shingles rash, she was also advised to make significant lifestyle changes. Typically, her schedule consists of activities that assist with alleviating stress and strengthening her immune system. It also includes sufficient sleep, regular physical activity, and consuming healthy, nutritious foods.   

“I was itching all over, but I couldn’t even scratch my body!” – Nigel 

Retiring at a young age, Nigel was diagnosed with shingles at 54. Like Chin San, he also showed similar shingles symptoms, such as fluid-filled sacs on his chest and an intense itching and burning sensation around the rash area.

Nigel frequently uses Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to support the treatment of various disorders and maintain good health. Thus, he naturally turned towards the ancient system of medicine for his condition. 

The combination of acupuncture and moxibustion helped calm the pain and promote optimal healing. Nigel also used herbal ingredients like coix seeds to remove dampness and dried tangerine peel to regulate qi flow throughout the treatment.

Nigel recalls, “I remember the TCM physician telling me that I had a weak body constitution due to a sedentary lifestyle.” Nigel has since incorporated exercise into his weekly routine and made a few simple changes to his diet. “I try to go for a brisk walk every evening, but if I’m free in the morning, I’ll also join the Taichi group at the park,” he adds.

Causes of Shingles Symptoms  

Man doing Taichi outdoors.
Ancient exercises like Taichi can help to regulate qi flow.

Shingles only affects people who had chickenpox infection before. This is because the virus that causes the disease stays dormant in your body. It is reactivated when your body is stressed or when your immune system is weakened. 

Shingles typically spreads along the nerves and affects only the area supplied by these particular nerves. Postherpetic neuralgia pain (the pain that a person experiences after a bout of shingles) can continue for months or years before it completely goes away. 

According to Eu Yan Sang TCM Physician Kong Teck Chuan, shingles relates directly to internal factors like pathogenic dampness, heat, and wind. These usually occur in the liver and gallbladder meridians. Certain people may also experience shingles linked to a kidney yin (passive energy) deficiency or blood and qi (vital life energy) deficiencies. 

Treating Shingles Symptoms  

Shingles is a self-limiting illness, which means that the symptoms will subside even if no treatment is given. However, you can take steps to ease the symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. Shingles treatments can also prevent other complications. These include post-herpetic neuropathy — nerve damage that causes pain and a persistent burning sensation — pneumonia, facial paralysis, and bacterial skin infections. It may also give rise to eye problems like ulceration, inflammation of the optic nerve, and glaucoma, as well as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which causes a group of symptoms like earache, vertigo, tinnitus and loss of taste. 

Self-care methods  

The most important thing is to keep the area around the rash as clean and dry as possible. This will help to reduce your risk of developing a bacterial infection. Wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid topical antibiotics or plasters as they can slow down the healing process. Calamine lotion can also relieve itching and have a cool and soothing effect on the skin. 

Anti-viral medication 

Caused by a virus, doctors may prescribe anti-viral medicines such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valaciclovir. These do not kill the virus but prevent it from multiplying and spreading to other parts of the body.

Consequently, these medications can help reduce the duration and severity of your shingles rash and reduce the risk of complications.

However, these medicines are most effective only when taken within three days of the infection. They are relatively ineffective when taken a week after the symptoms have appeared. Therefore, contact your physician at the earliest if you suspect that you may have shingles. 

Doctors may advise people with a weak immune system, over the age of 50 years, or who have moderate to severe pain or rashes to use anti-viral medications. However, they can cause side effects like diarrhoea, vomiting, headaches, and abdominal pain. Pregnant women should also be cautious and seek the advice of a healthcare provider before using these medications.

Natural treatments  

Syndrome differentiation is the first step that a TCM practitioner will take when diagnosing and advocating herbal formulations. An example of this is “fire in the liver”, which can be treated with a herb like the Japanese gentian (Qinjiao, 龙胆草) or a formula like Long Dan Xie Gan Tang (龙胆泻肝汤). Additionally, acupuncture and cupping therapy can help to relieve postherpetic neuralgia pain.

Shingles patients can also take a herbal beverage containing oat powder and turmeric extract, which is beneficial for suppressing inflammation and treating skin conditions. Acupuncture and the consumption of decoctions that use qi-enhancing herbs like astragalus root (Huangqi, 黄芪) can be helpful for recovering from long-term shingles symptoms. 

“Take simple foods that are easily digestible, adequate vegetables and fruits, and avoid spicy, greasy or fried foods. Try to have balance and harmony with your emotions and avoid mood instability or rapid mood swings. Do sleep and rest early. Practise Qigong, Taichi, or yoga, or do light exercises regularly to help with qi flow and recovery. These exercises may also help with shingles pain,” explains Physician Kong. 

Treating shingles symptoms will help you lead a close-to-normal life until your condition improves. Combining clinical treatment with adjunctive use of TCM remedies helps tone down the severity of your condition. Nevertheless, be cautious of using herbal ingredients and formulations. Always seek the advice of a licensed practitioner to determine your specific shingles syndrome and avoid adverse outcomes.

References

  1. NHS inform. Shingles. [Accessed 18 November 2021] 
  2. MedicalNewsToday. What to expect when you have shingles. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  3. NHS inform. Shingles. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 

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