Shingles: Causes and Prevention

Herpes zoster is the virus that causes the chickenpox. Most of us experienced this infection as kids–a very itchy rash, that can show up over the entire body.

Once chickenpox is resolved the herpes zoster virus can “hide” in a little pocket in our nerves called the dorsal root ganglia. It can hide there, dormant, for years, with a healthy immune system keeping it where it can’t cause any trouble.

But, like a gift that just keeps on giving, the virus can reemerge.

As we age, or if we are in a situation where our immune system is run down, that little virus can poke it’s head out and start causing trouble. That trouble is called shingles, and anyone who has had it can tell you it’s no fun.

This painful rash typically appears as a single “strip” of blisters that wraps around either side of your torso.   These blisters can be itchy and/or burny. They can cause numbness or tingling and result in intense sensitivity to touch. Some people also experience fever, headache, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. Overall the experience is extremely unpleasant.

Wore still, as you age, chances increase that you can develop a complication like post-herpetic neuralgia, which is continued pain even after the blisters have resolved that can result in months of discomfort.

So what to do?

1. Keep your immune system strong and healthy.

Immune boosting is the key to prevention. You want to keep that dormant virus right where it is! Eat right, exercise, get lots of rest when you feel tired and lots of laughter whenever you can.

2. Treat early.

Getting an antiviral within 72 hours of the onset of shingles will decrease the duration of the disease. If you don’t want to do conventional anti-virals, some research supports using IV Vitamin C to decrease both disease duration and post-herpetic neuralgia. We’ve seen this work in practice in many patients. Vitamin B12 injections have also been shown to decrease post-herpetic neuralgia.

Shingles is no fun. If you develop symptoms, see your health care provider as soon as possible!

 

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