Shingles is a common clinical skin condition that consists of clusters of blisters that grow unilaterally along a nerve. It usually comes with significant nerve pain, or neuralgia. Traditional Chinese medicine has many names for it, including ‘poisonous fire rash,’ ‘spider sores,’ ‘snake strand sores,’ ‘flying snake rash,’ and ‘the torso-coiling dragon.’ Shingles outbreaks often occur in springtime. Modern medicine uses anti-virals, anti-inflammatory, and vitamins to treat this condition, with limited results.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by a virus called varicella zoster. The virus causes an infection of the skin in the region of the nerve; this is why the blisters grow along a nerve distribution. Western medicine focuses on eliminating the virus, reducing inflammation and controlling pain. However, after the blisters go away, patients are often left with three to ten months of lingering neuralgia. In my clinic, I have even treated a case in which the patient suffered pain for more than four years! Needless to say, this pain had a significant negative impact on my patient’s quality of life.

Actually, everyone who has had chickenpox has varicella latent in their nerve cell bodies. When the immune system is working properly, the body keeps this virus in check. However, there are a number of reasons that can cause the immune system to decline, thus giving the virus a chance to break free and cause painful infections. Traditional Chinese medicine has long described this relationship between the immune system and infectious disease as the growth and decline of good and evil Qi. When good Qi (the immune system) is strong within the body, evil Qi (infectious diseases) cannot invade. Thus, it is important to eliminate the virus, and equally important to cultivate the recovery of the immune system. Western medicine thoughtlessly damages the human body’s self-healing capacities because it only concerns itself with virus elimination and pain control. Ironically, this leads to the slow recovery of peripheral nerves and prolonged pain. Depending on the severity of nerve damage, and each person’s own capacity for self-healing, the rate of recovery varies. Some bodies take a long time to grow the nerves back; some take less time.

We all know that in order to eliminate a virus, the body must produce antibodies. More specifically, the body must produce enough antibodies to destroy the virus. The quantity and quality of antibody production vary depending on the functionality of the human body. Only when the body is balanced and functioning well can recovery happen swiftly. After many years of clinical practice, I can say that for the treatment of herpes zoster, the combination of acupuncture with herbal decoctions generally yields results very swiftly. Patients, who come in the early stages, before taking western meds, can be cured completely in 3-8 treatments. Patients taking western medicine may take longer to make a full recovery, but they too can find relief from the nightmare of neuralgia within a few treatments.