Shingles Treatment: How to Curb This Contagious Disease

Shingles treatment, which include Western and traditional Chinese medicine, can help relieve the symptoms of this contagious disease.

Woman scratching the back of her neck

Ancient legend has it that shingles (sang seh) will result in death if the ‘snake’ reaches its tail and forms a ring around the body. In Chinese folklore, it is said that burning the ‘head’ of the snake is the best shingles treatment. Western medicine believes that shingles — clinically known as herpes zoster — is provoked by the varicella-zoster virus, which also happens to cause chickenpox. The virus will plant itself in one of your nerves after you recover from chickenpox. If your immune system weakens, the virus will reactivate, causing shingles.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the primary causes of shingles are pathogenic toxins, emotional paralysis, and poor circulation of qi and blood in the viscera — heart, lungs, and organs of the digestive, excretory, reproductive, and circulatory systems.

Specifically, predominant dampness and heat can block the meridians and collaterals, which then lead to blood and qi stagnation, and trigger an onset of pain.

Here are a few common signs of shingles and ways to prevent or treat the condition.

Woman in office attire holding the right side of her head as she sits on a chair
Headaches, chills and a fever are prodromal signs of shingles; check to see if you require shingles treatment.

Shingles Symptoms You Should Know

The varicella-zoster virus usually develops on one side of the body but can affect the abdomen, face, mouth, and internal organs. Elderly people are more likely to experience shingles, but the condition can also occur at any age.

1. Combination of prodromal or early symptoms

In some instances, people with shingles will present distinct symptoms that develop before the appearance of blisters or a rash. These may include a headache, chills, a fever, or a burning, itchy, numb, or tingling sensation around the affected area.

2. Persistent pain

Shingles will firstly present as pain along an affected nerve. This pain can feel like a constant, dull, or burning sensation and vary in intensity. Sharp, stabbing pains can occur from time to time and cause skin tenderness. The pain and discomfort that accompany skin lesions may also persist for weeks or months.

It’s worth noting that people with shingles experience pain due to an inflammation of the affected nerve. The pain a person experiences after a shingles scab falls off, on the other hand, is the result of damage to and regeneration of the same nerve.

3. Rashes

The shingles rash appears on one side of the body and will appear as small red blotches on your skin. These blotches will worsen and fill up with yellow fluid and pus before it crusts and falls off within 7-10 days. Scabs will then form, leaving slight scarring that takes approximately two to four weeks to heal.

Elderly woman about to receive a vaccination dose on her left arm
Apart from shingles treatment, the best way to prevent shingles in the elderly is to get vaccinated.

Shingles Treatment and Prevention

Fortunately, there are many ways to treat and prevent shingles. Take note that if you haven’t had chickenpox previously, you might be at an increased risk of the condition if you come into close contact with people who have shingles. For this reason, it’s advisable for people with shingles to keep away from children.

1. Get vaccinated against shingles

Vaccination is the only way to prevent shingles. According to the Ministry of Health Malaysia, all Varicella vaccines are for infants 12 months and above. The sole vaccine for shingles is only for people 50 years and above and in high-risk populations.

Medical professionals usually administer these vaccines as a single, subcutaneous injection. You may also need subsequent doses depending on different national immunisation requirements.

2. Use of painkillers and antiviral agents

A healthcare provider must administer antiviral agents like famciclovir, valacyclovir, and oral acyclovir within 72 hours after skin lesions appear. Early use of these agents is beneficial for preventing disease complications and limiting the duration and spread of the disease. The use of painkillers and nerve medication can help with pain management. 

3. Consider acupuncture and herbal medicine

People have used TCM therapies in shingles treatment for over a thousand years. In two individual studies, the use of both acupuncture and herbal formula proves that it’s highly effective for pain and rashes associated with shingles. Like the prescription of herbal ingredients, physicians administere acupuncture in accordance with syndrome differentiation. This TCM treatment has demonstrated the ability to enhance pain-relieving drugs and release corticosteroids which promotes self-healing.

These benefits are derived from the proximity of acupoints with nerves, which the herpes zoster virus attack. In two randomised, controlled trials, results show that acupuncture is better at decreasing pain intensity as compared to pharmacologic therapy.

Meanwhile, during the recovery process, one can consider consuming pure Longana honey to nourish the skin.

Immediate shingles treatment is important during the early stages of the disease. As symptoms and body constitutions can vary for different people, it’s a good idea to talk to a licensed TCM practitioner.

References

  1. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Efficacy comparison of different acupuncture methods for herpes zoster. [Accessed 2 December 2021]
  2. 2020. Fire needle plus cupping for acute herpes zoster: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial.  [Accessed 2 December 2021]
  3. NHS Inform. 2021. Shingles.  [Accessed 2 December 2021]
  4. 2017. Varicella-Zoster Viral Infection.  [Accessed 2 December 2021]
  5. 2019. Shingles.  [Accessed 2 Deceecmber 2021]
  6. 2018. Acupuncture and Herbs Stop Shingles Pain, Outperforms Drugs.  [Accessed 2 December 2021]
  7. US National Library of Medicine. 2018. Acupuncture for postherpetic neuralgia.  [Accessed 25 December 2021]

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