In the United States, there are up to one million estimated cases of shingles every year. Shingles refers to the reactivation of the dormant herpes varicella zoster virus after childhood. Aging, trauma, stress, or another illness can all activate the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend seeking medical advice as soon as any symptoms appear.
In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed a vaccine called Shingrix that protects against the condition. The CDC recommend that adults over 50 years of age receive the vaccine to reduce their risk of shingles.
The 10 natural treatments and home remedies below may provide relief from symptoms, although people should note that these are not medical treatments.
Some of these remedies may relieve pain and itchiness and improve healing:
1. Essential oils
Essential oils can help with skin irritation and healing.
People have used essential oils as herbal remedies for many years, often for skin conditions.
Some essential oils have properties that may help with skin irritation and healing These oils include:
- Chamomile oil, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and can improve ulcers and pressure sores by aiding skin-cell regeneration.
- Eucalyptus oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can increase the speed at which cancer patients' sores heal.
- Tea tree oil, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and can promote wound healing.
In some cases, pure essential oils can cause allergic reactions. Therefore, people should always do a patch test before trying them.
It is best to dilute oils with a carrier oil or to visit a pharmacy to purchase them pre-mixed as a safe topical ointment.
The FDA have not approved many essential oils for use, so it is important to talk to a pharmacist or doctor before using any of them.
2. Cold compresses
Holding cool cloths or compresses against the rash site may assist in relieving itchiness and reducing inflammation.
People can lightly soak a natural cotton cloth or towel with cool water and wring it out before placing it on sore, itchy areas. They can then repeat this as necessary.
It is also best not to expose the skin to extreme temperatures, so people should avoid using ice baths or very hot water. Hot water will increase blood flow and potentially slow down the healing of sores, whereas ice will increase skin sensitivity.
3. Witch hazel
Researchers believe that witch hazel is more effective than chamomile for reducing inflammation and itchiness in some individuals.
It is possible to purchase witch hazel in a variety of forms, the most common of which are creams or witch hazel water. Many witch hazel creams are available online.
People can apply witch hazel topically to areas of irritation and inflammation to achieve relief.
4. Cool baths
Taking cool baths or showers every day, with minimal scrubbing, will help to keep sores and blisters clean and reduce the risk of infection.
Cool water should also relieve sore and itchy spots, helping to prevent scratching, which could cause scarring.
5. Oat baths
People can add colloidal oatmeal to a cool bath to relieve pain and itchiness.
Some studies suggest that oat extract may moisten dry skin and soothe sensitive and inflamed skin.
The FDA have approved colloidal oatmeal as a safe and effective treatment. Colloidal oat products usually exclude oat protein to prevent allergic reactions.
The active ingredients that help reduce inflammation include flavonoids and saponins. People can use oat products in a cool bath to help relieve pain and itchiness.
6. Gentiana scabra
Researchers have found that Gentiana scabra, a blue or purple flower occurring throughout North America, has a positive effect on pain relief in shingles and decreases the likelihood of postherpetic neuralgia.
By reducing inflammation in the skin, Gentiana scabra minimizes pain and promotes healing. A reputable Chinese medicine practitioner can prepare the herbal formula by boiling the plant in water. People can then take the remedy orally.
A healthful diet is vital for preventing and fighting illness.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a varied diet comprising many vegetables, fruits, and whole-grains as well as legumes, nuts, and lean meats.
People should aim to include orange, red, and green foods that contain the carotenoids lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and provitamin A in their diet. Carotenoids are very important for immune function, and occur in the following foods:
- orange foods: carrot, pumpkin, and apricot
- red foods: watermelon, red pepper, grapefruit, and cherry
- green foods: kale, parsley, spinach, melon, lettuce, and endive
Limiting trans and saturated fats, and avoiding added sugar and salt where possible can also reduce inflammation and improve immune function.
8. Vitamin supplements
Vitamins may help people who are immune-compromised.
Healthy individuals should not need to take supplements. However, individuals who are immune-compromised and over the age of 50 should consider supplementation to maintain good health and strong immunity.
There is a link between vitamin D and immune function. Many older people are at risk of low vitamin D levels, so they must ensure that they get sufficient sun exposure or take supplements to protect their immunity.
Taking vitamin C, zinc, and selenium supplements can also improve immunity in older adults.
However, taking high doses of vitamins and minerals can do more harm than good. Multivitamins, which contain lower and safer levels of many vitamins and minerals, are usually a better option.
9. Quit smoking
Smoking offers no health benefits and is always harmful. It is vital to quit smoking as it increases the risk of many cancers and diseases.
Smoking lowers immunity against infection, especially in older people, and can delay recovery and healing.
10. Reduce stress
Using meditation to relax and trying to rest when possible may help to reduce the symptoms of stress.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to cure shingles. However, as with other viruses, resting and eating a healthful diet will help with recovery.
Using treatments to alleviate symptoms will increase comfort and mental well-being, and may also reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia.
There is now a vaccine available to prevent shingles. Anyone who is aged over 50 or is at risk of developing shingles should consider seeing their doctor about getting the vaccine or a booster dose.