life self-care Wellness

How To Survive Shingles (And Not Go Totally Crazy!)

March 5, 2018

Remember that time I got the shingles? I know I won’t be forgetting that experience anytime soon…For anyone who has had or currently has shingles, you know this is a pain you won’t soon forget. They call it adult chicken pox, but I can assure you it’s far worse than chicken pox ever was. That or my memory is playing tricks on me!

But it’s not all bad around here. My Dad always jokes that whenever shit hits the fan around here, it makes for a great blog post and well, he’s definitely right about that. THM is my personal version of making lemonade! Or in this case, make shingles recovery out of shingles!

I’m going to skip over the whole medical diagnosis part since your doctor should probably be the one doing that but instead describe my personal experience with the shingles and what I did to nip it in the bud. The first thing I did when I got diagnosed, was immediately take to the internet to see if anyone had helpful tips for healing shingles. I read a lot of horror stories, some not-so-horror stories but also some really productive tips. I’m hoping this post can be that for some of you. Or if you have a friend or family member suffering, feel free to pass onto them. We got this!

So, first things first…

Trigeminal Nerve Shingles and healing shingles naturally

THE DIAGNOSIS

I actually told the full story in this Instagram post so I won’t go into too much detail. Basically, a couple days before the infamous shingles rash appeared, my lymph nodes on the left side of my neck and ear blew up. I then developed a lot of pain in my ear the next day so I went to the doctor to see if I had an ear infection. That morning I noticed two huge zits on my forehead which I thought was strange (because I never breakout on my forehead) but they didn’t occur to me as anything but zits. You know those huge underground zits you get? They looked and felt like those.

My doctor looked in my ear, felt my lymph nodes and informed me I did not have an ear infection but likely some kind of virus that my body was trying to fight. Neither of us thought anything of the zits and I went home feeling pretty crappy but relieved it wasn’t an ear infection.

Over the next few hours is when the rash really started to develop. A few more bumps on my forehead, one on my eyebrow and those big “zits” started to become really painful. The pain I felt in my ear started moving into my head and my swollen lymph nodes made it difficult to turn my neck. I later found out that the pain in my ear was likely caused by the fact that my shingles developed in my trigeminal nerve which is right next to your middle ear.

I knew pretty much as soon as the pain migrated to my forehead that I had the shingles. People have been shocked to discover that you can a) get shingles under the age of 60 and b) get shingles on your face. I knew both were possible because my Mom had them on her face when I was really young. Thankfully that situation clued me into what was happening with my own body but for any of you out there who don’t know this, you can get shingles at any age and they can happen at any nerve root in your body, including your face!

Shingles recovery and tips and tricks for how to heal your body when diagnosed with shingles

THE TREATMENT

Because I pretty quickly tuned into what was happening, I was able to get started with my shingles recovery fairly quickly. If you manage to catch it within 72 hours of the rash appearing, the antivirals are most effective. I’m lucky I caught it within that window and am certain the quick duration of my symptoms was because of this. Of course, not everyone will know right away, but if you have a gut feeling or any of the symptoms I described above, go to your doctor!

Besides my antiviral 3x a day I was also prescribed pain meds, which I honestly didn’t end up taking. Heavy pain meds make me feel sick and groggy so except for the first two days when the pain was pretty excruciating, I used advil and tylenol to help manage the pain. For as hippie dippie as I may be, when stuff like this happens I think the path of least resistance is often the best. I wasn’t doing myself any favors by trying to overcomplicate.

Of course, I also turned to diet and lifestyle choices to also help manage the symptoms. I’m fairly confident that in addition to the antivirals, these choices helped to decrease the span of my shingles experience. So let’s get into that…

Healing shingles through supplements, diet and lifestyle changes - these are the best tips for healing your shingles and aiding in shingles recovery

HOW TO SURVIVE SHINGLES (and not go totally crazy!)

I think the most important piece of this post is this section. Of course, catching it early and taking the antivirals help a ton but shingles is so much more than just popping some pills and hoping for the best. I’m not here to throw conventional medicine under the rug. I don’t think I’d have had such a quick turnaround if it hadn’t been for the full course of antivirals I took, but there are a lot of natural treatments you can incorporate to also help speed up the process and the pain and itchiness that typically ensues.

CBD/THC

In addition to OTC pain meds, I used CBD and THC to help manage the pain. I’ve been playing around with different types of CBD and found the Calm pen from Dosist to be most effective. For THC I used topical salve on the rash itself and it was literally a godsend to help manage the pain.

BONE BROTH

There’s a reason your body craves broth when you’re sick. Bone broth is super anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting. It contains vitamins and minerals that help support gut health and reduce pain and inflammation.

I’ve had two cups of bone broth every single day for the last two weeks. Currently obsessed with Kettle and Fire and especially their mushroom and chicken broth! Use code THEHEALTHYMAVEN to save 20% off your first order.

KOMBUCHA/PROBIOTICS

When they say “it all starts in your gut”, they’re not kidding! After my bout with SIBO I had to eliminate and then slowly add in fermented foods and probiotics. I can’t even tell you how much I missed kombucha…It’s been almost 6 months since then and I am now happily back to taking my daily probiotic and guzzling my Healthade kombucha. 5:00 PM became my “kombucha happy hour” and I think that’s going to stick around for a while!

SUPPLEMENTS

Pretty much everyone under the sun will recommend a different supplement to you when they hear you have shingles. Truthfully, there are many MANY out there that could benefit you, shingles or not. I decided to stick with what I had from my Care/of packs and add in one that was consensus amongst everyone, L-Lysine.

Zinc – supports immune function and has an antiviral effect

L-lysine – an amino acid that helps reduce the spread of the shingles virus

Rhodiola – an adaptogenic herb that’s shown stress relieving properties

Astragalus – another herb that helps support immune function and has an antiviral effect

LEMON BALM

I wasn’t sure which category to put this under, so instead it gets a category of it’s own. Lemon Balm is an herb that is known to help reduce pain from shingles, both internally and topically. I pretty much got all my hydration from drinking 6-8 cups of Lemon Balm Tea a day and once the initial couple of days of pain went down, I used a topical lemon balm to help reduce inflammation, reduce pain and help promote healing. Someone on Instagram told me to order this Lemon Balm Salve from Amazon and it was literally the best advice I got from everyone. Within a week the rash had gone done and had begun healing.

DIET

I am a true believer in the healing power of food. Now I don’t think eating perfectly “clean” replaces other lifestyle habits or conventional medicine, but it is a great tertiary care to support your body. And truthfully, when you’re sick (at least when I’m sick), I’m not craving the same foods I normally do. I think when you really tap in and listen you’ll realize that the foods you crave like bone broth and vegetables are actually your body’s way of supporting you.

In my case I literally wanted all the warm, green veggies in broth. Particularly kale and bok choy. Interestingly my acupuncturist told me that bok choy is a common healing and cooling food in Traditional Chinese Medicine and that because shingles is excessive heat in your body, bok choy was a great cooling choice. Our bodies are crazy!

In addition to plenty of veggies, I also found myself gravitating towards antioxidant fruits like berries and lots of bananas. I didn’t intentionally do it, but I pretty much ate zero refined sugar for a week. As I started to feel better I was like “give me the brownies!!!” but while I was still heavy in the pain-zone I didn’t want any of it.

I also consumed more turmeric that I ever thought I could and especially loved it in my morning Matcha and Turmeric Latte. My body was NOT craving coffee so my morning matcha really did the trick.

ESSENTIAL OILS

I’ll be honest, when I’m sick I often turn to essential oils for primary support, but for shingles they definitely played second fiddle. I rubbed fortify on my chest and neck lymph nodes to support my immune system and diffused grounding and soothing blends like unwind, spa spirit and tranquility to help stay calm and promote self-care and relaxation.

*Note: After about two weeks I began seeing an acupuncturist to help with some peripheral nerve pain that remained even after the rash had healed. I highly recommend if you’re still dealing with pain but are out of the itchiness and scabbing phase.

Kombucha and how probiotics help in shingles recovery

THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP FOR SHINGLES

I know that this is a lot of information so give yourself time to take it all in. Perhaps, more importantly take this one piece of advice: RELAX. Shingles is usually brought on by stress in your life. While I didn’t think I had a lot of stress (I’ve become a lot better at managing it!), when I listed everything on my plate it’s easy to see how my body was overburdened.

The biggest lesson learned through this process is how important it is to really, truly support your body. People often mentioned how lucky I was to be able to have a job that works from home, but when you’re sick it’s easy to just reach for your phone in bed or work on a project while recovering on the couch. The boundaries are less clear. Though I did the bare minimum I needed to do, I mostly took a lot of time to rest, nap, journal, watch TV and essentially do nothing.

I would have loved to have gone on walks or been outside but the pain of the wind on my face made it impossible. I was upset over this but C reminded me that compassion is a big part of the recovery process. So even though I felt stir crazy, I also knew that going outside actually created more stress in my life. Acknowledging those stressors and putting in plans of action to eliminate or diffuse them is the key to getting over shingles.

* * * * *

I’m still not 100% pain-free but that’s to be expected after 2.5 weeks out. I’m continuing most of what I listed above and easing myself back into work. I’m also doing acupuncture to help manage the pain and have also found it super helpful in reducing my stress levels.

Overall I can tell I’m drastically improved from where I was and also have learned one of life’s most important lessons: STRESS IS REAL and it can manifest physically, so don’t ignore it!

Have you ever had or currently have shingles? Any tips to add? Drop them below!

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  • Reply
    Janice
    May 17, 2022 at 7:54 am

    Thought it was cluster headache on Sunday, nothing touched it. By Tuesday I was putting a heating pad on my face and head (I know). Then I got a couple of spots on side of forehead/eye. Thought I had an eye infection by Wednesday. Thursday urgent care, 5 seconds it’s shingles. Antiviral, prednisone and antiviral eye ointment. Eye doctor next day, no sign of infection in eye. Don’t use eye antiviral. Blisters began to heal quickly. So diagnosed on April 22. May 11 my eye is blurry like a large blurry spot. Back to eye doctor, never seen it before. Cornea inflamed 3 mm spot. Back on antiviral and prednisone drops for eyes. So tired, frustrated and kind of scared. Anyone ???

  • Reply
    Shelly
    May 4, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    I am almost finished with a shingles outbreak in my inner ear, throat and face which wasn’t diagnosed until day 6 of my symptoms. My heart goes out to you and will be praying for you to find some relief. My doctor put me on two different antivirals (not valtrex) as well as gabapenten which has helped with the nerve pain. I hope this helps.

  • Reply
    Phillip Thomas
    May 1, 2022 at 8:11 pm

    I am 64 years old and have been experiencing recurrent bouts of Shingles for 7 years. Approximately 4 yeas ago I did get two doses of the Shingrix vaccine 6 months apart which eliminated the outbreaks for around 2 years. However, the last 2 years I have been experiencing an uptick in the frequency of these breakouts and have pondered the following question. Can I get a Shingrex booster to increase my immunity since it has been 4 years since the last of the two dose vaccination? I can’t seem to find any information on this and I’m sure there must be other individuals faced with the same circumstances. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • Reply
    DJ
    April 16, 2022 at 11:14 pm

    I was diagnosed with shingles 5 days ago after 2-3 days of pain but no blisters until day 3. I went to ER and was started on Valtrex 5 days ago. I tolerated the Valtrex on day 1 but starting on day 2 it made me vomit and have bloody diarrhea. I know I need to stay on the Valtrex but even taking a half dose at a time it triggers vomiting so violent that I have broken a rib by having dry heaves that I could not stop for about 2 hours. Meanwhile the blisters have spread all over one side of my back, my abdomen and now my thigh. I am going to have to stop the Valtrex and I may try the CBD cream. I cannot keep anything down but Ginger Ale so I am feeling very weak as well.

  • Reply
    Deb Franklin
    April 11, 2022 at 2:43 am

    I used to suffer horribly with shingles for many, many years; I would have at least one really bad outbreak a year. But after finding out about lemon balm (Melissa) and L-Lysine several years ago, I haven’t had a single outbreak! Anytime I feel that tingling along a nerve and know shingles is trying to flare up, I immediately start taking lemon balm pills (1500 mg) three times a day and L-Lysine pills (1000 mg) twice a day. And I apply full strength lemon balm extract on my skin where I feel the tingling. This has worked like a charm for me, even when the prescription antivirals didn’t seem to do that much good. Lemon balm is antiviral and antimichrobial, and L-Lysine prevents the body from absorbing arginine which shingles (and many other viruses) need to grow.

    • Reply
      Laura
      April 22, 2022 at 8:26 pm

      Hi Deb!! Thanks for sharing your story, I went and bought the lemon balm tabs and L Lysine! You take a strong dose… and it’s Ok with ur body? I’m suffering the tummy bulg and am so uncomfortable, it’s my 4th week of shingles and they r clearing up but I don’t want any more problems .. I just started yesterday on the vitamins so hopefully it will speed up recovery!! Thanks again!!

  • Reply
    Rose
    March 30, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    This is the best article I’ve read on Shingles. Everyone seems to define Shingles as a “painful rash”. For me the pain started 4 or 5 days before I saw any rash. I went to Urgent Care on the third day of the rash (which was the 7th or 8th day of the virus) so the anti-viral and steroid meds didn’t help much. I am now in my 7th month of Shingles. The rash is mostly faded but still there. The nerve pain has weakened but still bothers me when it is covered by clothing or blankets. The only real relief I have is when my right thigh is uncovered, so I am forced to stay home most of the time and wear pants that I have cut the right leg off. It all started a day or two after I fell down hard in a sitting position. My doctor didn’t think that this had anything to do with it, but I believe it did because of the timing and the location of the rash. I have been wondering if acupuncture can help. I think it would be worth a try. Thank you for your very informative article!

  • Reply
    Jenny
    March 23, 2022 at 10:22 am

    Hey! I was just diagnosed with shingles yesterday, several days after it started because shingles was never even on my radar due to my age. My rash is on my back and abdomen and is now blistery and while not excruciating pain, it is pretty uncomfortable. I ordered the lemon balm salve you mentioned but not sure when to use it. Do I use it on the blisters or wait until the blisters are gone? And can I use a THC cream and the lemon balm salve together?

  • Reply
    Roger
    March 6, 2022 at 7:55 pm

    I was in my doctor’s office about 36 hours after getting what I first thought was a boil … then several more boils. Getting in so fast made all the difference. I started the antiviral medicine right away, and my rash is now limited to about eight spots on my backside. Sitting is not pleasant. Everything you said sounds good, except that I heard bone broth is high in arginine, which in my case probably is what brought on my shingles. I’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes and egg drop soup for lunch, partly to shrink my enlarged prostate. But both of those, along with berries, etc., are super-high and arginine, and when that level gets out of balance with your lysine levels, that and stress can bring on shingles. Someone please correct me if this is not the case. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Chris
    January 1, 2022 at 11:12 pm

    Thank-you so much for writing this article! It almost made shingles feel a little breezy. I’m 46 and found a cluster of what I thought was bug bites (size of a quarter) and one other larger looking raised bite. I was suspect as I had been very stressed for the holidays and had just gotten over Covid 5 weeks earlier. My doctor had given me a steroid at the end. Everything I’ve read says that healthy people don’t get this! I was fortunate to get into my dermatologist on day 2 and started the antiviral that day. The spots are exactly the same size and knock on wood they have only been itchy with a couple of zaps. My mom said I only had 2 blisters with chicken pox so I’m wondering if there is a correlation? The antiviral does make my heart race a little but other then that don’t have the headaches. Time to really evaluate the stress in my life!!

    • Reply
      Sindy
      April 11, 2022 at 3:06 pm

      I had shingles on my left thigh didn’t get thec rash until a week after the pain started. I took the L-lysine and it went away in about a week but took several minth to be totally clear of the redness and from the rash. I also take vitamin C everyday and don’t eat processed foods which helped. A relative just broke out and will include Zinc and the vegetable soup this ttime. Thanks for the article great advice 👍🏼

  • Reply
    Judy
    November 13, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    My experience is a little different..for 5 days I had pain in left side… I thought my dogs had gotten me with a paw or 2 may have wrestled into me… ( golden retrievers 60-80 lbs) I woke on day 6 with what appeared to be bug bites on my side . I went to work ..and by noon was feeling very run down… was going to head to urgent care after work ..but did not have energy .
    I was diagnosed next morning and started the antivirus… I am on day 5 of my medication .. I have very low energy , burning sensation and electric shock like pains.. both sides are tender to touch as well as left thigh . I have the shingles from my spinal cord to belly button

    I found this article and the comment section great .. more informative that the info from urgent care.
    Someone mentioned coffee . What I have read says no caffeine and that includes cola drinks
    I drank one not knowing and have since cut them out .. and it helped some.
    Thank you everyone who has contributed .. ( I am the oldster here @71.1/2

    • Reply
      Teresa
      February 9, 2022 at 12:39 pm

      Hi ..your story it’s exactly the same as what I went through and still going through after a month of suffering with shingles.my skin it’s still sore to the touch…..

  • Reply
    Wolf
    November 9, 2021 at 5:54 pm

    I am actually currently at what I would say is the half way point for my shingles, I got it from my sternum all the way around to my spine on my left side and I can tell you this is officially the worst pain and I have personally dealt with (and I have been through two surgeries to deal with cancer.) To be honest, No matter where you get Shingles my best observation is to find a comfortable spot and/or get comfy and just watch a show or something. completely destress and it will make surviving Shingles a little easier. for me because of where it is I had to set myself up in a fairly contorted way and have been watching anime for the most part while I recover. the only other thing I can say is drink lots of water and keep the area as clean as possible and covered so no issues happen.

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