“The first thing I felt was tingling and itching on the left side of my scalp. I then discovered a blister when I looked in the mirror. Luckily I was able to cover this thing with my hair. I tried not to scratch it and put some lotion to soothe the itch. I went to bed that night feeling somewhat relieved. The next morning, the blister burst as soon as I put my glasses on, so I put some antibiotic cream on it. The pain was excruciating, probably the worst pain I have ever felt. I had no idea it was the first sign of shingles.”
Elena’s story is typical of those with no previous experience of shingles. In many cases people don’t recognize the early signs of shingles and end up suffering unnecessarily.
You may be in the early stages of shingles if:
• the rash is only on one side of the body;
• the rash erupts along any of the nerve paths, called dermatomes;
• there is sharp, even burning pain;
• you have previously had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
While seeking help for postherpetic neuralgia, a common complication from shingles, Elena told me her story. “The sore on my scalp grew larger and more painful. More blisters started to appear near my left eyebrow, forehead, and temple. By the third day my left eye was nearly swollen shut. I was unable to get an appointment with my regular GP, so I went to the walk-in clinic. The doctor confirmed that I had shingles. Luckily the shingles was not in my eye. I was given painkillers and anti-viral medication and sent home. It took twelve days for the rash to go away, but the pain and numbness lingered for another month.”
Second Bout of Shingles
“Exactly one year later, I saw the same blister on the left side of my head,” Elena continued. “This time, I knew it was shingles. Right away I made an appointment to see my doctor. I got the medication much earlier than the first time, but my second bout with shingles was still very painful. The rash only lasted about six days but the pain and numbness are still with me one year later.”
What Is Shingles
Herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles, is a viral infection marked by pain and often a blistering rash, which appears on one side of the body. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After one recovers from chickenpox, usually as a child, the virus can remain dormant in the nerve roots for years. It can then be awakened by some trigger, such as physical or emotional stress. When awakened, it presents itself as shingles rather than chickenpox. This risk of shingles increases with age and during stressful periods in our lives.
Some people may feel shooting pains for days or weeks before the blisters appear, while others only experience pain when the blisters emerge. There are also those who do not develop blisters, only pain. This is the type of shingles most difficult to diagnose.
Although very painful, most people will recover without serious complications and will not get shingles again. In those with a weakened immune system, and predisposition to nerve disorders, shingles complications can be severe. The most common one is postherpetic neuralgia, where the nerve pain lasts for months or even years after the rash has healed. This pain is caused by the damaged nerve fibres, which continue to send pain messages to the brain. Some other less-common complications can include muscle paralysis, meningitis, loss of hearing or vision, and bladder impairment.
Elena’s Case – Postherpetic Neuralgia
The blisters Elena had with each bout of shingles left faint scars on her scalp and face. She reported that the scars were painful to the touch. As a result Elena could no longer wear eyeglasses, as the temple piece (the glasses’ arm) caused too much painful pressure on the side of her head. She could no longer sleep on her left side, wear hats or have anything touching her face or scalp.
The main reason that Elena sought homeopathic treatment, however, was to address the residual pain where the blisters once appeared, known as postherpetic neuralgia. She described the pains as burning, alternating with occasional numbness. Elena felt some relief when taking a hot shower or being in a warm place, such as a sauna. The pains were generally milder during the day and intensified after midnight.
Homeopathy to the Rescue
In contrast to the conventional approach of suppressive anti-viral medications, homeopathy offers a quicker and more effective approach to treating shingles. A weakened immune system is more prone to herpes infections, such as shingles, as well as other illnesses. Homeopathic medicines act from within and positively influence the immune system and enhance the body’s own healing capacity. When the body is empowered with the energetic boost of the homeopathic medicine, the pain, discomfort, progress, and spread of shingles are effectively neutralized. With the homeopathic approach the recurrence of the illness is also diminished.
As is customary in an initial homeopathic consultation, Elena and I discussed many aspects of her health, well beyond her experience with shingles. She felt tremendous anxiety about her health and feared being permanently in pain. The burning nature of the neuralgic pain, which was relieved by warmth, combined with all of Elena’s other characteristics pointed to the remedy Arsenicum Album. One dose of this remedy relieved Elena’s pain and numbness by half. The rest completely healed within the following two months of homeopathic treatment. Elena also reported being able to fall asleep quicker, having better quality sleep, and feeling less anxious in general.
Had Elena known about homeopathy, Arsenicum Album would have helped her from the first time she felt the tingling and itchiness on her scalp. It is likely that a few doses of this remedy at 200C would have reduced the blistering, pain, and duration by as much as 75%, and lowered the incidence of shingles to one.
Some people swear by the topical use of honey to soothe the painful blisters of shingles and claim that it works better than the drugs.
One homeopathic remedy is worth mentioning as it tends to be helpful in a large number of shingles cases. The remedy is Rhus toxicodendron (made from poison ivy). This remedy clearly demonstrates the main homeopathic principle of “like cures like.” If you’re sensitive to poison ivy and ever brushed against it, you are familiar with the painful blistering rash it can cause. This rash remarkably resembles the shingles rash. If poison ivy can cause this type of rash, it can also cure the same when made into a homeopathic preparation.
If Rhus toxicodendron (Rhus tox) does not work to relieve the symptoms of your shingles – or complete the cure – see your homeopath to find a more suitable remedy. Rhus tox is also helpful in other common herpes virus infections, such as cold sores and chickenpox.
Homeopathy can help at every stage of shingles, as well as its complications. For better pain relief, quicker recovery from shingles, and a healthy boost to your immune system, consult a trained classical homeopath.