At-Home Treatments for Shingles
What is shingles?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral infection that presents as a blister-filled rash typically appearing on one side of the body (although it may also “wrap” around the torso). The rash associated with shingles can be extremely painful. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus which is also responsible for chickenpox. After an individual has had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. The virus can reactivate at any time, even decades later. If it reactivates, it travels along nerve fibers to the skin. This reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus is referred to as shingles.
Although no cure exists for shingles, a prompt medical diagnosis is imperative in order to receive proper treatment. Medications are available that accelerate the healing process, ease pain and reduce inflammation. Early treatment is crucial to avoid complications associated with shingles, so a health care provider should be consulted as soon as possible if shingles is suspected.
In addition to conventional and over-the-counter medications, various at-home remedies may help decrease the pain and discomfort associated with the shingles virus:
Cleansing the affected area
The affected area should be kept clean, dry, and exposed to air as much as possible to accelerate the healing process. Cleansing will help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Keeping the affected area dry and exposed to air will help heal the rash.
Regularly bathing with cool or lukewarm water may reduce shingles symptoms. Bathing in hot water is not recommended. A simple tip to shorten the duration of shingles includes adding 1-2 cups of colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch to some lukewarm water in the bathtub and soaking in it for at least 15-20 minutes. Afterward, take a shower and carefully towel dry the skin. Hot water increases blood flow, which can worsen shingles; therefore, a hot shower should be avoided. Towels should be immediately washed to avoid spreading the virus.
Applying cool, moist compresses
A cool, moist compress can ease pain and itchiness. Soaking a cloth in cool water and applying it directly to the rash several times daily can help. A cool, moist compress can also be used after taking a bath or shower. An ice pack should not be used as it can increase skin sensitivity, causing increased pain.
To avoid bacterial infections and reduce spreading shingles, blisters should not be scratched or burst.
Applying lotions and creams
Calamine lotion can reduce itchiness, soothe irritated skin, and help dry out blisters. Creams containing capsaicin may ease the inflammation and pain associated with shingles.
A homemade paste can be used as well. A homemade paste can be made by mixing one part water with two parts cornstarch (or baking soda); this can be applied directly to the rash. The paste should be rinsed off after 10 to 15 minutes but can be repeated as needed to provide a soothing sensation.
Moisturizing lotions and antibiotic ointments should be avoided or used sparingly as they can delay the drying of blisters and sores.
Following a healthy diet
A diet of healthy foods that contain vitamins A, B-12, C, and E boosts the immune system. This can help prevent shingles from spreading on the body. Examples of vitamin-rich foods include orange and yellow fruits, leafy green vegetables, red meats, eggs, chicken, fish, dairy, whole grains, beans, legumes, tomatoes and spinach.
Food or drinks high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat should be avoided as they can weaken the immune system.
Using supplements and herbs
A physician or pharmacist should always be consulted before adding any supplements to the diet, especially if currently taking other supplements or medications. If symptoms worsen, supplements should be immediately stopped and medical care should be sought.
Examples of herbal or dietary supplements that may help the body fight the shingles virus or ease anxiety and insomnia associated with the shingles virus include the following:
- St. John’s wort
- Oregano oil
- Lemon balm
- Green tea
- Essential fatty acids
Consulting a physician before using supplements or homeopathic remedies is essential.
Serious interactions between supplements and medications can occur.