What is Shingles?
Shingles, a painful disease that is related to the chickenpox virus, has many traditional and natural medical management options. However, chiropractic care can also provide assistance to those who suffer from the disease. Shingles manifests itself as a very painful, blistering rash. It is known that the chickenpox virus is what leads to the development of shingles in the future. Also known as herpes zoster, shingles is caused by the “reactivation in the body of the varicella-zoster virus, the cause of chickenpox”.1
Shingles is most likely to be found in people over the age of 60, in those who had chickenpox as an infant, and in those who have been immune-compromised (e.g. due to medications or disease). The disease may be first noticed by a “one-sided pain, tingling, or burning”. Next, red patches and a rash of blisters appear somewhere on the body, which will last for about 3 weeks. Shingles often also causes the development of fever, headache, soreness, abdominal and joint pain, and sores. When it attacks the face, it can lead to drooping eyelids, muscle movement issues, and hearing, tasting, and vision problems.2
For adults, “exposure to children with chickenpox helps act like a booster shot to the immune system”. However, the elderly and the immune-compromised are still at risk for developing shingles. The fact that the aging population has increased may demonstrate that hospitalization from shingles could be on the rise.
The general medical thought is that the chickenpox vaccine will very likely decrease the future incidence of shingles.3 This is due to the fact that the chickenpox vaccine contains a live, attenuated version of the virus. This version, like the wild virus, still has the chance for latent infection. However, the risk of reactivation occurring in vaccine-strain chickenpox is much lower than the wild version of the virus. This means that the future risk of developing shingles due to the chickenpox vaccination reactivating is much lower than the wild chickenpox virus reactivating and causing shingles. The shingles vaccine is a stronger version of the chickenpox vaccine.4
Who Should and Should Not Get the Shingles Vaccine?
Patients who are 60 years of age and older should get the shingles vaccine, whether or not they had chickenpox. Even those who have already suffered from shingles should get the vaccine, as it should help to prevent future outbreaks of the disease. It is not recommended that those between the ages of 50 and 59 receive the shingles vaccine. Generally, patients who have already had shingles but not been vaccinated are recommended to wait until after the shingles rash has disappeared before getting the vaccine. The only reasons not to get the vaccine are if the patient is severely allergic to any component in the vaccine, has a weakened immune system, or pregnant. Those who wish to become pregnant should wait four weeks between getting the vaccine and becoming pregnant. The vaccine is effective for 5 years.5
Medical treatments tend to focus on antiviral medications to shorten the disease’s course, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. In addition, doctors may also prescribe anti-inflammatory steroids, antihistamines, pain medications, and a capsaicin (pepper extract) cream called Zostrix. The disease, while the sores are actively oozing, is infectious. Patients should be cautious and avoid contact with others in order to abstain from spreading the disease. A complication of shingles, postherpetic neuralgia, can lead to years-long pain in the area that had the rash. While the virus might clear up within the average 3 weeks, and it rarely recurs, some patients can have permanent nerve damage, weakness, or paralysis. Other complications of shingles could include bacterial infections, deafness, and blindness.6
Chiropractic for Shingles
Medications, a very common treatment option for traditional medical practitioners, can carry serious side effects. These very medications that were supposed to treat the problem might even worsen the condition or create new issues at the end of the day. The aim of those who practice chiropractic is to minimize the use of medications and invasive procedures in situations other than when they are absolutely the only options left. Instead of treating symptoms, they work towards resolving or mitigating the underlying problem. While medical doctors may prescribe creams, painkillers, and anti-depressants, which only mask the symptoms and do not get to the root of the problem, chiropractors work with the patient on strengthening the immune system.
Patients may be asked to take natural supplements, or alter their diet, to change the ratio of lysine and arginine. Lysine is the one that needs to exceed the arginine. Spinal adjustments can help with the misalignment and subluxations of the patient. For topical relief during an already existing outbreak, patients can use more natural treatments, such as apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper on a rag, with some heat applied. During shingles outbreaks, lysine supplementation may be appropriate, as well as colloidal silver and vitamin C, to boost the immune system.7
2, 6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001861/
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