If you’re in the middle of a shingles outbreak, you might be looking high and low for some relief. As a first step, make sure to talk to your doctor.
To get through it, you’ll likely need a few different tools, and it might help to look beyond traditional Western medicine.
Do Alternative Treatments Really Help?
Western and alternative approaches can work well together. Check with your doctor if you’re not sure about trying something new.
Here are some of the ways people seek relief:
The long name is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. This therapy uses tiny electrical pulses to relieve pain. Though it may sound like it, it isn’t like getting a shock and it doesn’t hurt.
You can find a TENS unit at a drugstore or online. It’s about the size of a smartphone and comes with small patches called electrodes. You put them over the painful area and turn the unit on and off as your pain comes and goes.
Doctors aren’t sure how TENS works, but for some people, it eases the pain that can linger after shingles. There are even some reports that it may help with the shingles outbreak itself.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
These treatments focus on the idea of qi, your body’s natural energy. According to these approaches, sickness arises when your qi is out of whack. They generally try to restore balance in your body. Some of these techniques include:
During treatment, a practitioner burns the herb close to your skin. According to Chinese medicine, this gives you warmth, stimulates your qi, and gets rid of toxins that cause disease. Some studies show that this can help with shingles pain.
You can check with an acupuncturist or someone who practices traditional Chinese medicine to learn more.
Cupping: This is said to boost the flow of qi and blood in your body. It is supposed to open up your pores to flush out toxins.
During a session, a therapist heats air inside a cup made from glass, bamboo, or horn. She places this on your body to pull the skin part way up into the cup. After several minutes, she removes the cups. They leave behind raised, red circles on your skin.
Some research shows that cupping, especially along with other treatments such as acupuncture and light therapy, can ease shingles pain.
You can get a treatment from a person who practices traditional Chinese medicine.
Acupuncture: This ancient practice uses very thin needles to balance your qi. People get it to ease or stop pain from any number of causes, and it may help with shingles.
You need a licensed acupuncturist to get this treatment.
Creams and Other Skin Treatments
You might have some success with these. You put them directly on your rash and might get quick relief. Always talk to your doctor before you use products like these:
Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO): DMSO is a clear liquid that is left over from making paper. When you put it on your skin along with idoxuridine, an antiviral drug, it may reduce swelling and the number of blisters you have.
Chlorophyll: You might recall from high school science that this substance gives plants and leaves their green color. When you apply it to your rash as a cream or saline solution several times a day, it may improve your symptoms.
Capsaicin: This cream is made from hot chili pepper seeds and may help you feel better if you are hurting and the rash is already gone. When you first put it on, it might burn a little, but that will go away. Use the cream only on the area where you feel pain because it can irritate other parts of your body, especially your eyes.
Type “shingles supplements” into a search engine, and you’ll find an endless supply of herbs, pills, and oils to try. For most of them, there’s no research to back up the claims, but in a couple of cases, very early studies show some hope.
Papain: This is a protein found in papayas. It’s used to make meat tender and even to clean contact lenses. Turns out it may also bring relief to people with shingles. You can find it online sold in capsules.
Studies haven’t been done on humans, but in the lab, it looks like these two honeys help fight the varicella zoster virus that causes shingles. Scientists suggest that applying it directly to your skin might be helpful, but it’s not clear yet how to best use it or whether it will help at all.