Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus, which is a type of herpes virus. When a person gets chickenpox, the virus never actually leaves the body, even when symptoms disappear. The virus is able to hide in the spinal nerves of the body. This is called latency and it is one of the most interesting things about herpes viruses.
When the chickenpox virus comes out of hiding, usually later in life, or when the immune system becomes compromised, a shingles outbreak is the result. There is no cure for shingles per se. Shingles will go away eventually when your immune system overtakes the virus.
Usually, a person has only one outbreak of chickenpox and one outbreak of shingles in their life. The best way to shorten a shingles outbreak is to support your immune system.
Keeping your immune system healthy
- Eat healthy foods, like green leafy vegetables and whole grains. Omega 3 fatty acids are also helpful to supporting your immune system. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish like salmon, flax seeds, kiwifruit, certain nuts like walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts, and in eggs.
- Exercise is vital to a healthy body. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise 3 times per week. If you have physical limitations, talk to your doctor about what kinds of exercise you can do.
- Get plenty of sleep. The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night to stay healthy.
Alleviating Shingles Symptoms
While you wait for your immune system to suppress the virus, there are certain things you can do to alleviate your suffering.
- Take cool oatmeal baths
- Use soothing capsaicin or calamine cream or all-natural aloe vera gel
- Use cool compresses
- Take over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen
- Wash the blisters twice a day with soap and water
- Do not bandage the blisters
There are several different prescription medications available for the treatment of shingles. They may have unpleasant side effects, so you should consult your health practitioner before taking them.
Special Precautions for Shingles Sufferers
Since shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, you can give chickenpox to someone if you are having a shingles outbreak. If you are having a shingles outbreak, you should avoid contact with people who have never had chickenpox.
If you experience recurring shingles outbreaks, you may have a problem with your immune system and you should see your health practitioner as soon as possible. You should also see a health practitioner if you have a shingles outbreak near your eyes, as this can cause blindness.