Homeopathy has something to offer at every stage.
Shingles usually presents as a painful blistering eruption on the skin. It is caused by the same herpes virus as chickenpox. After the initial infection, the virus lies dormant in nerve roots near the spinal cord, kept in check by a functioning immune system. If when the immune system becomes less effective and its guard is down, the virus can “seize its chance”. It multiplies and migrates out along the nerve and shows how much damage it can cause in the nerve and in the area supplied by that nerve. The skin is the most frequently damaged tissue and sensory nerves are those most commonly involved. Motor nerves (those which are responsible for movement) can be affected too, especially in the face (causing one-sided drooping) and other organs, particularly the eye.
The commonest reason for the decline in function of the immune system is the ageing process. Most bouts of shingles occur in those over 65 and one estimate reckons that half of those over 80 years will suffer at least one attack.
An attack of shingles is very often preceded by tingling and numbness over the affected skin. In addition, two thirds of people experience shooting pains as well, up to three weeks before any sign on the skin. Some people only get pain after the rash has appeared. The rash starts as a band or patch of raised dots on one side of the trunk, face, arms, abdomen or legs. The rash occurs nearly always on one side of the body.
Post Herpetic neuralgia
One can cope with these symptoms for a short time, but 20 per cent of those who have an attack of shingles find themselves left with a degree of pain after the rash has gone and the skin is intact again, a situation known as post-herpetic neuralgia
Conventional treatment relies on anti-viral drugs such as Acyclovir taken as soon as shingles is diagnosed. Painkillers and anti-inflammatories can help during an attack. As a pain caused by nerve destruction – a neuropathic pain – PHN, is hard to treat, but longer-term powerful painkillers are a mainstay. Antidepressants and anticonvulsants can help, as can the application of a patch, which slowly releases the local anaesthetic drug lignocaine.
Homeopathy has something to offer in shingles at every stage. Before the rash has appeared, when there is just some tingling, if you are familiar with an attack or if it is suspected, it is well worth taking some Aconite. I favourite in high potency (200c, 1M or 10M), but 30c frequently is just fine.
Once the rash appears, other remedies come into play. The major remedy in shingles is Rhus toxicodendron. This is also used with great success in cold sores, another common herpes-virus infection. The use of Rhus tox in shingles is a very obvious and useful example of the similia principle. There is inflammation, intense blistering and intolerable itching of the skin which continues for several days before healing.
If the patient is very chilly with restlessness, anxiety, exhaustion and a worsening of symptoms between midnight and 2am, then Arsenicum album is likely to help. Arsenicum, of course, has a major keynote with burning pains apparently paradoxically relieved by warmth. It also has many interesting skin symptoms.
Mezereum (spurge olive) is useful for rashes which are very painful and intensely itchy, especially on the scalp and particularly in older people. The blisters may burst to form brown scabs.
Ranunculus bulbosus (buttercup) is often indicated with severe nerve pains, when the slightest touch or movement makes the pain worse. It is also particularly helpful for rashes on the left chest wall which are slightly bluish in colour.
For a rash that is described as feeling like a burn, Cantharis (Spanish fly) might be a good choice.
The challenge of post-herpetic neuralgia can be met sometimes using homeopathy. All of the remedies mentioned previously may apply, though Ranunculus, Mezereum and Rhus tox are most often used. I would also add Spigelia, with its shooting pains along nerves.
Variolinum, the nosode made from potentising fluid from the skin lesions of smallpox, deserves a special mention. Many prescribers will give this, either as a single 30c or 200c dose before other remedies, or as a prescription to take alongside other remedies (say 30c daily). It does seem to cut down on the suffering associated with shingles and is especially useful in PHN.
Anything that reduces the suffering associated with shingles has to be a good thing. Enter homeopathy!
Karuna Tohow. Dip Hom Med, Ayur Cert, LBA Cert, BW Dip A.T.M.S