What Is Shingles?
Shingles is the worst kind of rash that you can get. Shingles is a viral infection that causes a very painful rash. There is a virus called the varicella-zoster virus that first causes chicken pox. Once the chickenpox is treated, this virus lays dormant in the nerve tissue in your spinal cord and brain. The year and even decades later it can be rendered active and it leads to this rash condition called shingles. Adults with the weak immune system are at a great risk of developing shingles.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Shingles?
The signs of shingles are pretty hard to ignore. They are –
- Stabbing pain in one side of the body
- A belt of fluid-filled blisters around the waist or on the face
- The feeling of itching, tingling, burning, and stinging before the band of rashes appear
- Body aches
- Upset stomach
- Sensitivity to touch.
- Some people may even experience sensitivity to light.
You will not experience all the symptoms of shingles. The first symptom that you will definitely experience is a pain, either somewhere on the waist or on your face. There is a possibility that you will only feel the pain and not develop the rash. Because pain is the only symptom felt first, the condition can be misdiagnosed. Shingles is mostly diagnosed after the appearance of the distinctive band of rashes.
These symptoms will last 2 to 6 weeks but you might experience what is called postherpetic neuralgia. It means that you will feel shingles pain for a few weeks or even months after the rashes are gone.
Fun Fact: Shingles is a Latin word ich means belt. Which is probably why it is used to describe a belt of rashes.
Is It Shingles Or Something Else?
Rashes appear on your body for other reasons as well. They appear as an allergic reaction to something you ate. You may get itchy blisters as a reaction to poison ivy, sumac, or oak that will appear after spending some time outdoors or in the woods. Herpes causes blisters to appear on the mouth or around it. So get checked by your doctor if you have rashes to figure out the cause of your rash and whether or not it is shingles.
When To See A Doctor?
As soon as you see the beginnings of a band of blisters, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider. If these rashes appear beside the eye then do not delay in meeting the doctor as it could lead to permanent eye damage. If you are above 60 years old or if you have a weakened immune system then you are at a greater risk of catching shingles so meet up with your doctor as soon as you suspect that you have caught it.
What Are The Causes Of Shingles?
Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus called varicella-zoster virus so basically, anyone who have ever had chickenpox are at a risk of developing shingles, but it’s not necessary that you will get shingles if you had chickenpox before.
The real cause for reactivation of the virus that leads to shingles is still not clear. It is mostly found in adults and people with the weak immune system but the theory is that the older you get, your immunity to infections drop and that results in shingles.
Shingles is also called as Herpes Zoster as it is a part of a virus group Herpes viruses. But you don’t need to worry about getting genital herpes if you get shingles as the virus that leads to genital herpes is different.
How do Shingles Spread?
Anyone who has shingles can spread the varicella-zoster virus through direct contact with the rash. But the person who gets infected with this virus gets chickenpox, not shingles. Shingles is later activated when the immune system is weak. If you have shingles, you should avoid physical contact with anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or its vaccination. You should also avoid touching people with weak immune systems like a newborn baby, pregnant women, and even people who are recovering from an illness or surgery.
While there is no instant cure for shingles that will make the rashes go away, the doctor will prescribe you antiviral medications that will make the rashes go away faster. If the pain or inflammation gets too much or unbearable, then the doctor will also prescribe lotions and pain relievers to soothe the symptoms.
5 Working Natural Home Remedies To Treat Shingles
1. Cold Bath
This is a slow process but it gives great relief to some of the symptoms of shingles. Taking a cold bath or a shower helps to cleanse the rashes which reduces the chance of infection. It also reduces the pain and the itchiness which is the constant physical discomfort that harms the infected emotionally too.
The relief will be even greater if you fill in your bathtub with lukewarm water and add a cup of colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch in it. Soak yourself in it for 15-30 minutes.
Be sure not to use hot water any day that you have rashes. The heat from the water will increase the blood flow in the shingles blisters and worsen the symptoms. Also, make sure to wash the towel you use after bath to reduce the chance of infecting somebody else.
2. Cold Compress
You can’t soak yourself in cold water all day despite the relief that it gives you. So dip a cloth in cold water and apply it on your rashes. This will also reduce the itchiness and pain. Do not use an ice pack for shingles as it might worsen the symptoms. Make sure to wash the cloth you use on the rash so as to prevent infecting someone else.
Repeat this process as many times in the day as you want. Every time you feel like scratching at the rash, apply a cold compress on it instead.
3. Baking Soda / Cornstarch + Water
This is also a process that you can keep repeating throughout the day. This will help relieve pain and itchiness. Make a paste by adding baking soda or cornstarch to water and mix it well. Apply the paste on your blisters and let it work for 15 minutes. Rinse it off with cold water. The measurement would be 2 parts of the powder and 1 part water. This means that if you are taking 2 spoons of cornstarch then add 1 spoonful of water and mix well. The same goes for baking soda.
4. Lotions And Cream
This is the remedy you need to use if the above 3 remedies haven’t worked for you. Lotions and creams will not make the rashes go away faster but it will soothe your pain and discomfort. Capsaicin is an anti-inflammatory substance that is found in several lotions and cream that will help you in relieving the inflammation on the blisters. So apply calamine lotions or any lotion/cream with capsaicin in it, preferably after a cool bath to have maximum effect.
Make sure you apply lotions not more than 4 times a day and all of them are unscented. Scented lotions may cause irritation.
5. Herbal Remedies
There are some supplements and herbal medicines that will help you fight the virus and reduce the symptoms. They are-
- Green Tea – drinking less than 3 cups a day will help reduce the symptoms. Do not drink more than that as it will heat up the body and worsen the symptoms
- Chickweed Gel – it will help calm the inflamed skin
- Lemon Balm – to soothe your skin
- Witch Hazel – to reduce inflammation and itchiness
- Oregano Oil – it will help fight the virus and help build up your immune system at the same time
- Gentiana Scabra – this flower that is only found in North America has been found to have reduced shingles pain and lessen the chances of postherpetic neuralgia.
- Quit smoking as it will only worsen the symptoms.
- Reduce the amount of stress by meditation or taking up some light activities. Delegate your work for a few days and get some rest. Catch up on some reading to keep yourself occupied.
- Take some vitamin supplements to bring your immune system up, but make sure to consult your healthcare provider first.
- Include fruits, veggies, and dry fruits in your diet.
- Apply essential oils to your rashes, like chamomile, eucalyptus, or tea tree oil.
- Get the chickenpox vaccination in adulthood even though you had 2 doses of that vaccination as a child.
- Frequently wash your hands, especially if you are around someone who is infected with shingles
- Avoid physical contact with people who have shingles and with anything that they have used, like towels.
Shingles During Pregnancy
Your immune system is quite low during pregnancy, especially in the 1st trimester. Catching shingles during pregnancy can lead to birth defects and can even lead to miscarriage. So get a chickenpox vaccination before you decide to have a baby. If you find any rash on the body, contact your doctor immediately and get it to check out. It’s better if shingles gets diagnosed immediately so that the treatment can be started before the rashes worse.
Other Potential Complications
If shingles is not treated immediately and properly, other complications may arise. These complications are-
- Permanent eye damage – if the rashes are near the eye and are not treated immediately.
- Ramsay Hunt Syndrome – which can result in hearing loss or even partial facial paralysis
- Bacterial skin infections
Shingles is one of those conditions which people don’t really think about unless it happens to them and hence they rarely take any preventive measure, except the chickenpox vaccination that they had been given in their childhood. Even though it is not a life-threatening condition, it can cause severe discomfort or lead to serious issues as mentioned above. So share this article with your loved ones so as to keep them informed and armed to fight this illness.