I can honestly say this is the most painful illness I’ve ever had and depending on what sources you read, it could last anything from 2-5 weeks, or longer in cases with complications.
Just a quick google of the symptoms gives you some idea of how bad the pain can be… it’s one the biggest causes of pain related suicide, and I can understand why. It’s relentless, with no rest, no breaks, just this constant, rumbling, clawing, mawing, brain crushing pain. A band around your middle, or wherever you have the rash, that is tight, sharp, stabbing and undulating and there is no off switch. No rest. No let up.
Why does a person get shingles?
This is a little complicated but I’ll try to explain what I’ve understood. You can only get shingles if you’ve had chickenpox. That virus, the herpes simplex zoster then lives in your body and lies dormant until such time that it rears its ugly head. It is most common for older people to get it, but anyone of any age can become ill with it. There could be a number of reasons such as old age, being run down, having chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant patients or people with HIV or Aids. I think the reason I’ve got it could be due to taking Methotrexate for my eczema.
I’ve stopped taking that immediately so may get a flare up of my skin, but I can’t take Methotrexate any longer if its compromising my immune system to this extent. What will the long term effects of taking Methotrexate for eight months be on my health? Will my skin now deteriorate?
How do you know you’ve got it?
The symptoms or shingles are quite easy to spot. You get a rash, cold sore like herpes blisters around one side of your torso which can spread to the arms and head. I thought I had hurt my back and ribs because I had a band of pain around just one side of my torso, but I carried on doing all my running, travelled up North for work and had a few late nights… it finally caught up with me after a terrible nights sleep with stabbing nerve pain all around this already painful band. When I woke I had the first signs of blisters around this band of pain. Now, after four days there is a wide band of loads of blisters and they hurt. It is very painful.
It is worse at night for me and it’s very hard to get comfortable when you can’t lie on your back or one side of your body. The pain is always there too, a dull throbbing, undulating nerve pain which builds sometimes to really unbearable levels. Even the weight of clothing on your skin is painful so I create a sort of nest or tent to try to keep pressure off the rash. Not easy!
What to avoid when you have shingles
I’ve been reading loads, both on the NHS link the doctor sent me and on Dr Google and here’s what I’ve found:
- Coffee – this is BAD news! No coffee 🙁 I’m not really sure why this is so bad and have had the odd morning coffee. This thing is relentless, you can’t take away my morning coffee…
- Alcohol – No problem here as I don’t drink that much anyway, but alcohol could reduce your bodies immune system even more. I’ll be honest, I feel quite unwell so not really interested in alcohol anyway.
- Sugar – Now this just seems unfair. Living alone and trying to cook healthy meals is tough when you’re not well. What I’m craving is the sugar fix.. but I’m trying to abstain. Not doing very well on that one actually…
- Fried foods – these are not really considered conducive to healing
- Overdoing it – you need rest so just rest.
How long will it last?
It can last for anything from two weeks to up to five. I’m hoping that by taking it easy and resting and treating it early I won’t have it for too long, but I’m documenting the virus progress so I’ll share with you how long it actually lasts over the next few weeks.
Medical and natural treatments
Aciclovir – If you can get it diagnosed early enough you can take oral aciclovir which should slow the progress of the virus and help you get better quicker. You get a two week supply and need to take it five times a day.
Painkillers – I’m not sure paracetamol or ibuprofen are really helping much. Some sources advise against using Ibuprofen but the NHS website lists it as a valid painkiller for this virus. I also have a special drug to treat the nerve pain which I’m not sure is working. You take this at night to help with the stabbing pains, and it makes you drowsy so should help aid sleep. Again… not really noticing that.
Sleep – you really do need to rest. I can’t believe how much sleep I’m needing. I’m getting about 9-10 hours a night and still feel tired. It’s very broken, active sleep though. I find I’m getting up because it’s too painful to lie down, walking around, going to the loo 3-4 times ( I don’t normally need to do this so it’s odd) and finally dropping off.
Cold compresses – this can help with the pain and reduce redness and swelling of the blisters.
Hot bath with oats – This was recommended by a few people and initially I couldn’t bring myself to get into a hot bath because the blisters are so painful, but it is really calming and soothing. I added the oats in a muslin pouch to help heal and prevent itching. So far no itching, just pain! Lavender is also suggested but I don’t have any at the moment am wary of aggravating my skin further until I’ve spot tested with lavender.
Supplements – I’m not sure whether these will help but I have nothing to lose. I’m taking echinacea for my immune system and also Zinc and B Vitamins. Some websites suggest Vitamin C, E, colloidal silver and cayenne to name just a few. There can’t be any harm in looking into this and it could aid healing.
Green Tea – This can help to reduce antioxidants, as can lots of other herbal teas so if I can’t have coffee I’m trying lots of immune boosting and healing herbals.
Reduce stress – I’m quite good at this now, having learnt how important it is for my skin and mental health. Just take time, read, watch films, meditate, anything to reduce your heart rate, let your body relax and heal. I’ve been bingeing on podcasts and audio books but finding I keep dozing off in the middle so may have to listen again!!! Ha Ha Ha.
And so I’m trying to rest with all my freelance work piling up. I find I’m not feeling too unwell. I have waves of nausea, slight headaches and bone tiredness but I am able to do a bit of work. I’m trying to keep on top of things… not easy but got to be done.
And my next project is to document the life cycle of this virus in my body. Taking lots of photos and charting it’s blistery progress. Hopefully it won’t be more than three weeks because it’s already meant I’ve had to cancel so many things. You just gotta get on with it though, take the rest and let your body heal.
Anyone else had shingles? What did you find helped you? How long till you healed and were back to normal? Could Methotrexate be the cause of my shingles outbreak?
jacquie broadway says
So sorry. My daughter had shingles after losing her baby and ended up on Valium in order to sleep. My husband had shingles after losing his father. This appears to be a reaction for them to stress. Hope you feel better soon.
Ruth Holroyd says
Oh Gosh I’m so sorry to hear about both your daughter and your husband. It’s a horrible condition. I don’t think mine is due to any particular stress, although I do have a lot going on. One week down, hopefully only a few more to go. It’s the pain,… I do feel that doctors just send you home with completely inadequate medication. Paracetamol is not touching it and the drugs they gave me to counteract nerve pain seem to have no effect at all. It seems like the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, with nothing to alleviate it. I’m struggling but it will pass as my aunt has been telling me. It’s just exhausting too, coping with such horrendous pain. I’m so tired.
Micki Rose says
Ouch Ruth, I’m sorry to hear that. I recall we had a bit of an outbreak of it near our clinic in Uppermill a few years back and we gave a lot of melissa essential oil to apply to the blisters. Really helped heal them and reduce the length of the illness as it is a potent anti-viral. A few drops in olive oil, which is itself extremely anti-viral. Or pop a few drops in manuka honey. Hope your blisters are very short-lived. And take the hint that your body needed a break… 😉 x
Ruth Holroyd says
Oh thank you Micki, I will certainly try to get hold of some Melissa. I’ve got some manuka honey just waiting for a good opportunity to put it to good use!
Had shingles whilst on holiday! I put Calamine & Glycerine cream (available at Boots) to help with the itching. Loads of painkillers (stronger ones) for the pain and keep the area exposed to air as much as I could as I could not bear any clothing (underwear in my case!) on the areas. After I healed, I had myself vaccinated for shingles privately as you can get it again. Hope you feel better soon!
Ruth Holroyd says
You’ve got me worried about the chances of getting it again now. I had it as a 26 year old but nothing like this. i don’t remember it being as painful as this is but I only had it on one arm that time so it was really easy to deal with. Vaccination sounds like a good plan. I can’t face having it again. I’ll try to get some calamine. I’ve been putting on calendula and tea tree which does seem to helping, and alternating with aloe vera and tea tree. Pain killers are not helping much…
Chris B says
Ruth – Sorry you are suffering with painful shingles. I had facial shingles 3,5 years ago which was not pleasant or pretty and could have got into/affected my eyes (fortunately it didn’t). I kept the affected area cleanwith pre-boiled cooled water and dabbed it on with dampened cotton wool and used pure organic aloe vear gel to calm the itching/burning and did not only used crea facial cream that was unscented, as pure or natural as possible until things calmed down. It seems everyone experirences Shingles differenty. Mine occurred after a particularly busy and stressful time with my business. Within a month of the shingles, I experienced severe health issues but that could simply have been coincidence.. .
Ruth Holroyd says
Hi Chris, so lovely to hear from you after so long. I too am using aloe vera 99% gel to cool and natural healing salves which really helped to heal the blisters and skin but the pain is taking a while to go away from a few stubborn areas. It’s nothing like as painful now in the third week as it was the first two weeks. It went by in a kind of blur to be honest. So painful. Having it on your face must have been awful. I was lucky not to have any on my face or anywhere near it.. I hope you are feeling better now. And thanks so much for the comment. It’s a really isolating and miserable condition to have.