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Shingles and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Shingles is a viral infection called herpes zoster. It occurs after someone has contracted the chicken pox virus. This will not happen straight away but often a number of years later. Shingles will originate in nerve cell bodies and travel down neural pathways, causing painful blistering on the skin. Commonly affected areas are the torso, head and face. If shingles are diagnosed quickly, anti viral medication can be prescribed which will prevent the virus from spreading and help manage the existing infection. Other pain relief medication such as steroids or opioids are often prescribed to manage the pain. Shingles will usually last for a few weeks, particularly if treated early, but often patterns of significant pain remain. This pain becomes chronic and very debilitating, seriously diminishing quality of life.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers a dormant virus such as shingles to be a ‘lingering pathogen’. This is a term used in TCM to describe the concept that after a virus or infection has occurred in the body, it is not uncommon for a trace or effect of that virus to linger on. As someone becomes depleted the lingering pathogen may start to show itself with either symptoms similar to the original infection or a different manifestation such as the blistering that occurs with shingles. It’s all too common to hear of shingles developing after a time of stress or exhaustion, which may be associated with chronic ill health or after colds and flu.

According to TCM, the acute onset of shingles is considered a pattern of toxic heat. It’s important to vent the heat and clear the toxicity. Don’t forget that this virus usually comes at a time of depletion so it is also crucial to nourish and strengthen the body whilst attempting to vent the virus. This treatment process combines Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. These modalities done together will provide temporary pain relief and nourish the body to assist with a quick recovery.

If the symptoms of shingles become chronic, the TCM perspective changes to a pattern of Qi (energy) and blood stagnancy. The symptoms of pain, lesions or rashes are usually less pronounced than during the acute form but are still very debilitating. Once again for the best chance of recovery TCM will combine modalities to clear and disperse the symptoms whilst strengthening the body to prevent reoccurrence.

Of course TCM will always advocate prevention as the best medicine. Trying not to get too run down or stressed is crucial, and being able to recognise when you are will always be beneficial to your health, and allow you to avoid such nasty illnesses such as shingles.

Nick Conquest

Nick Conquest
Gardenvale Traditional Chinese Medicine

Published on March 8, 2016