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Kaufman: Acupuncture offers alternatives to treat shingles
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful, itchy rash.
Small, red blisters filled with fluid appear on one side of the spine, running towards the chest and abdomen.
The blisters can also appear on the head, face, arms and legs. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, with burning, numbness or tingling sensations.
Often the affected area is so sensitive that it is painful to have anything in contact with it, including clothing or blankets.
As long as the fluid-filled blisters are there the virus is contagious.
The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. After you’ve had chickenpox the virus disappears, but remains dormant in the body’s nervous system.
It can reactivate years later and return as shingles. Normally the blisters disappear within a couple of days to weeks, but frequently shingles can cause a painful complication called post-herpetic neuralgia, where the skin remains painful and sensitive to the touch after the shingles has cleared up.
This condition can last a very long time and can flare up again at periods of stress or low resistance.
It is caused by the inflammation of nerves that have been damaged by shingles.
In western medicine, shingles pain is treated with antidepressants, anti-convulsants, topical numbing agents, or narcotic painkillers.
When diagnosed in an early stage, antiviral drugs like acyclovir can bring help to speed recovery and relieve symptoms, although they can be expensive. There are also vaccines which may help to prevent shingles.
In traditional Chinese medicine, shingles are caused by a condition called liver fire and damp-heat.
The dampness causes the fluids in the blisters and heat causes the redness, burning and itching of the skin.
With this internal environment of damp heat, the virus is able to quickly grow and easily penetrate into the blood and move throughout the body.
Commonly, if there is more dampness, there will be more blistering of fluids and the rash will appear in the lower parts of the body. If heat is predominant there will less fluids, and the blisters will show more redness and severe pain, and lesions can show on the upper part of the body.
In either case, acupuncture can be remarkably effective in the acute shingles stage for relieving symptoms and helping the body to recover more quickly and more fully, thereby helping to prevent post-shingles nerve pain.
Treatments help to improve circulation and relieve pain and irritation of the nerves.
If post-herpetic neuralgia does occur following shingles, acupuncture can also be of great benefit to this complication.
It can help relieve the symptoms during a flare-up and may also promote better functioning of the nerves so that flare-ups are less likely to occur or are milder when they do occur.
Indeed, acupuncture is shown to be a great option for post-herpetic neuralgia, and can help you regain your lifestyle and live free of pain.
It is very important not to wait too long before you decide to go for treatment. The longer you wait, the more damage the virus can do to the nerve roots and the harder it is to treat it (and the more painful the shingles becomes).
A very advanced case of shingles can take many more treatments to resolve, as compared to patients with very early stages of shingles who have seen the problem clear up very quickly with acupuncture.