Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles at some point in their lifetime. This viral infection is caused by the varicella zoster (VZV) virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.
If you had chickenpox as a child, the shingles virus lies dormant in your system. But the virus can reactivate later in life and cause a shingles rash. The rash can occur on any part of your body but typically only affects small sections. Pain is usually the first symptom of shingles. The rash and fluid-filled blisters form within a couple of days after the onset of pain. Some people with shingles also have a fever, sensitivity to light, and fatigue.
There’s no cure for shingles, but your doctor can prescribe antiviral medication to shorten the duration of the virus and reduce symptoms. Although an antiviral is an effective treatment for shingles, it’s not the only option. Several natural remedies may also reduce pain and discomfort.
Daily cleansing of the blisters reduces the risk of spreading the infection. Take a cool bath or shower to soothe skin. The coolness of the water can ease pain from shingles blisters and calm itchiness.
You can also take a healing bath to reduce symptoms. Pour 1 to 2 cups of colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch into lukewarm bathwater and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not use hot water. Hot water can worsen shingles blisters because heat increases blood flow. Dry your body completely and then wash your towel to avoid spreading the virus to others.
In addition to taking a bath to relieve pain and itchiness associated with a shingles rash, apply a cool, moist compress. Do this several times throughout the day to relieve symptoms. Soak a cloth in cool water, wring out the water, and apply the cloth to the rash and blisters.
Similar to a bath, the coolness of the compress can reduce pain. Repeat the process as often as you need to. Do not apply an ice pack to the rash. The coldness may increase skin sensitivity and worsen pain.
Create a paste using cornstarch or baking soda and water to naturally relieve itching caused by a shingles rash. Pour two parts cornstarch or baking soda into a cup and add one part water to achieve the desired consistency for the paste. Apply the mixture to your rash, and then rinse it off after 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat several times a day as needed.
Scratching a shingles rash can cause scarring and prolong blisters. If itching doesn’t improve after a healing bath, a cool compress, or a baking soda or cornstarch mixture, use soothing lotions and creams. Lotions and creams don’t speed up the healing process, but they can increase your comfort level. Avoid scented or perfumed lotions, which can cause further irritation.
Apply topical ointments containing the natural ingredient capsaicin up to three or four times a day. This is the active ingredient in chili peppers. It has an anti-inflammatory effect to help ease pain. Pain may increase after initially applying the cream, but it’ll slowly go away. This cream works by reducing pain signals sent to your brain.
Additionally, you can apply calamine lotion after baths and showers to soothe irritated skin and help dry out blisters.
A weakened immune system worsens shingles. Some dietary changes can strengthen your immune system and prevent shingles from spreading to other parts of your body. Take steps to boost the function of your immune system by eating certain foods and avoiding others.
A shingles diet consists of foods with vitamins A, B-12, C, and E, as well as the amino acid lysine. Foods that promote healing include:
- orange and yellow fruits
- leafy green vegetables
- red meat
- wild-caught fish
- whole grains
As you heal and cope with the painful effects of shingles, you might crave comfort foods. However, you should avoid certain foods if you have shingles. Foods to avoid include:
- food and juices with high amounts of sugar
- arginine-rich foods (including chocolate, gelatin, and nuts)
- refined carbohydrates
- foods high in saturated fat
Eating too much of these foods can weaken the immune system and potentially prolong the virus. Foods with high levels of arginine can even cause the virus to reproduce.
Along with conventional shingles therapy and natural remedies, you can incorporate homeopathic remedies at every stage of shingles to calm itchiness and pain from a rash or blisters. Homeopathy is an alternative medicine that embraces the approach of allowing the body to heal itself. Consult a holistic medicine or homeopathic doctor to discuss treatment options and determine the best course of action. Homeopathic options may include:
- rhus toxicodendron
- ranunculus bulbosus
- arsenicum album
Some supplements and herbal medicines may also help your body fight the virus, as well as treat insomnia and anxiety due to shingles. These include:
- St. John’s Wort
- oregano oil
- lemon balm
- green tea
- essential fatty acids
Consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Understand that natural remedies don’t work for everyone. Even if you find an effective natural or homeopathic remedy, there’s no cure for shingles. The virus has to run its course. Nonconventional remedies, however, may decrease discomfort and irritation and speed the healing process when used in conjunction with conventional therapy.
The shingles virus can last between two and six weeks. Shingles isn’t life-threatening, but some people experience postherpetic neuralgia. This is when nerve fibers become damaged, causing shingles pain to lasts for weeks or months after the rash clears.