Shingles and Chinese Medicine
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful, debilitating disease that afflicts over 500,000 Americans each year. Bio-Scientifically speaking, the illness is caused by a virus, the same virus which causes chicken pox in children and adults. It begins as a hypersensitive area of the skin, with itching and/or burning, usually around the midriff or under the breastline and usually, but not always, on only side of the body. Other areas commonly affected include the neck, shoulder, upper back and in some cases even the face or eyes. Soon after the sensitivity is noticed there will be followed an outbreak of small, very painful blisters usually in a cluster around the area in question. The pain can be moderate to extremely severe depending on the individual and the state of their immune system. Unfortunately, it is the elderly and the immune compromised who usually suffer the most pain and debility from this disease. Some cannot even wear clothing nor allow the area to be touched.
The duration of the disease, untreated, can be from 3 to 5 weeks or longer and can seem much longer than that for those who are suffering the most. In some cases a chronic condition, known as “post-herpetic neuralgia” can develop wherein the patient continues to have mild to severe pain even after the blisters have disappeared. Unfortunately this can go on for years afterwards and the longer the condition goes untreated, the poorer the prognosis.
The Oriental Medical View
As unusual as it may sound to our ears, Oriental medicine views shingles as an attack of “dampness and heat”, usually occurring along the gall bladder or liver meridians on the exterior of the body. It is most interesting to observe, when one is aware of the Chinese acupuncture meridians, that these blisters do form along the meridians the Chinese have identified for over 3000 years. While this may sound “funny” in our bio-scientific mode of thinking, once one has actually studied Chinese medicine and applied the diagnosis and treatment, it is amazing to see just how effective it is! There is nothing “funny” about getting well from shingles.
The Chinese diagnosis does not actually refute the Western viral etiology either, instead it deals more directly with the patient’s bodily condition or “internal environment”, rather than focusing on and attempting to eradicate or suppress a “virus” within the patient. The diagnosis of “dampness and heat” actually relates to the condition of the patient’s system which allows the virus to replicate and create the outbreak. This diagnosis also allows the practitioner to provide the patient with practical, simple guidelines on what to do to help speed their recovery thru such means as dietary advice and restrictions, eg. “hot and spicey” foods, fried foods and alcohol should be AVOIDED during a shingles outbreak as they contribute to further “dampness and heat” within the body.
Western antivirals may also certainly help but unless the underlying condition is successfully dealt with, ie the “dampness” condition, the possibility of relapse or prolongation of the disease is very high.
Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture are VERY effective in treating shingles and especially when caught at the first stages, ie within the first 48 hours of an outbreak. It is even possible to prevent the outbreak if treatment is sought early enough, before the actual outbreak of the rash. Most of the time, however, the individual is unaware that an outbreak is imminent until the rash has already formed. Still, even after the rash outbreak, early treatment can be highly effective in diminishing the pain and resolving the blisters and rash and allowing the patient to carry on in a more normal fashion. Likewise, post-herpetic neuralgia, though a very stubborn and painful problem can be helped with acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies though it is MUCH better to go for treatment sooner rather than later in this condition as well.
I have successfully treated many cases of shingles, some in the early stages and others in mid to late stages. I have also successfully treated post-herpetic neuralgia though it must be remembered that the earlier the treatment, the more promising the outcome.
Many people ask about the number and frequency of acupuncture treatments for this condition. In China this condition is treated daily with acupuncture and herbs until it resolves. In our society where time and money are factors in treatment I tell my patients that the more often they can be treated up front, the shorter the duration and the quicker the resolution of the shingles. With Chinese herbal treatment added, the duration is even more quickly shortened. Do not hesitate to try Chinese acupuncture and herbal medicine for shingles! It is effective, low risk and, in the long run benefits the whole system.