General practitioner

Shingles, officially known as herpes zoster, is a painful rash resulting from the same virus that causes chicken pox. After a person has chicken pox, the virus remains latent in the nervous system and may be reactivated later to cause shingles. If you have never had chicken pox you cannot get shingles.

The symptoms of shingles can begin with unusual sensations in an area on one side of the body. These feelings can include itching, burning, or tingling. Within one to two days, a blister-like rash appears in a band-like pattern, causing mild to severe pain. After three or four days, the blisters can become open sores or ulcers, which usually crust over in seven to ten days and disappear in three to four weeks.

If you do get shingles, it is extremely important to keep the affected area clean to avoid bacterial infection. You can also use cool compresses to alleviate pain and itching. I recommend that people over 50 years of age who get shingles seek antiviral therapies within 72 hours of the development of the symptoms. Healthy people under 50 years of age should be able to fight shingles without antiviral therapy.

–Anne Willenborg, MD, General Practitioner, Mansfield Center, Connecticut

Homeopathic doctor

Immune competence is the major factor in whether shingles becomes activated; it also plays a significant part in how well we fight off the disease and if pain will remain following the outbreak. Staying in good health, with exercise, regular meditation and stress reduction, and a good diet will help reduce the chances that shingles will develop.

Patients can topically apply capsaicin cream, which is available over-the-counter in most pharmacies, but many patients cannot tolerate the burning that the treatment may cause [and it’s typically used for postherpetic neuralgia, a painful complication from shingles, not when blisters are present]. Based on the severity and manifestation of the disease, a qualified homeopathic practitioner will prescribe an indicated natural remedy, such as vitamin B12 injections, which is used by some naturopathic doctors to relieve pain. The homeopathic medication ranunculus bulbosus, helps alleviate the pain of lesions and speeds recovery. Lysine has been suggested to prevent the virus from multiplying and may compete with arginine, which is the amino acid that the herpes zoster virus uses to replicate.

–Stephen A. Messer, MSEd, ND, Professor and Chair of Homeopathic Medicine Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, Tempe, Arizona


The strength of Chinese medicine is its emphasis on prevention and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper diet, exercise, stress reduction, and balancing the energy of the whole body. The earlier shingles is treated with acupuncture, the better the success rate of a cure, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you think you might have it. Also, early treatment usually means fewer treatments will be necessary.

Acupressure is also an option for treatment. The acupuncturist places vaccaria seeds—small seeds with a hard shell that won’t break down from body oils—onto the ear to activate the acupuncture points related to shingles.

People who experience post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition where the pain associated with shingles lasts after the lesions are gone, can treat it at home by warming the affected area with a warming herb called moxa or mugwort leaf that has the property to enter energy pathways and move energy (in Chinese medicine, stuck energy causes and you must move the energy to release the pain). The method, called moxibustion, involves the burning of a moxa stick over acupuncture points on the body to penetrate the muscles and activate blood circulation. It can be used at the base of the neck to boost the immune system, as well as over the affected area to alleviate pain. Light the end and hold it approximately 1inch from the skin’s surface, then move in a circular motion for several minutes until the area is pink and pleasantly warm.

–Joyce Marley, LAc, NCCAOM, Acupuncture Services of Central New York, New Hartford