A viral disease, shingles is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that caused a previous bout of chicken pox. The disease is not life-threatening, but it can cause severe nerve pain or complications. Physicians have developed drugs to lessen the discomfort and decrease the possibility of complications, such as skin infections. These drugs, however, are often associated with a slew of undesirable and dangerous side effects. Natural, alternative treatments for shingles such as homeopathic treatments, herbal medicine, and alternative medicine supplements can relieve the symptoms of shingles without causing the adverse side effects of prescription drugs.
Alternative treatments for shingles do not cure shingles. Instead, alternative medicine works to relieve the discomforts and painful conditions from the disease, while the body's immune system works to contain the virus. Rest is one of the best natural treatments and the most commonly prescribed alternative treatment for shingles, since it allows the body to recuperate.
Skin blisters must be kept clean and dry to prevent infection and to keep from contaminating other individuals. Colloidal oatmeal baths and cool compresses soothe irritated, itching skin. Calamine lotion, derived from zinc and ferric oxide, relieve itching and provide a mild antiseptic to prevent infection. Skin creams containing capsaicin — extracted from the hot pepper, — soothe the nerve pain often associated with shingles. Capsaicin may also reduce postherapetic neuralgia, which is a painful and long-term nerve condition that afflicts individuals long after the disease has passed.
Alternative medicine herbs and nutrients in foods can naturally reduce the pain and inflammation associated with shingles. A German study shows that individuals who consumed a diet rich in proteolytic enzymes experienced decreased skin inflammation and pain relief on par with individuals who took an antiviral drug. Oil from peppermint and geranium may soothe skin blisters and aid in healing.
Other alternative treatments for shingles include acupuncture, which is an ancient Chinese treatment for relieving pain, and Tai Chi, which is a gentle, low-impact physical exercise program that reduces stress and improves immune system functions. Biofeedback may be successful for relieving pain and inducing healing. This is a psychological method of controlling autonomous body functions with the mental relaxation techniques or electronic devices.
When an individual develops chickenpox at an early age, his or her immune system eradicates most, but not all, of the varicella-zoster virus in the body's system. The virus settles in nerve tissue of the brain and spinal cord. Years later, the virus reactivates, resulting in shingles.
Medical experts do not know exactly what causes the virus to suddenly awaken, but it may occur because the immune system is weakened by age, disease or medication, or because trauma to the nervous system rattles the virus. Shingles is very common among older adults, with half of all shingles cases afflicting people aged 60 and over. Alternative treatments for shingles are often desirable for older patients, to avoid dangerous drug interactions with other prescriptions.