Herpes zoster, also known as ‘shingles’, is a syndrome characterized by a painful, unilateral vesicular rash, usually restricted to the skin area supplied by a particular nerve. Herpes zoster is usually caused by a reactivation of the chicken-pox virus, which lies dormant in the spinal dorsal root ganglia. Common symptoms include pain in a particular area, followed by a rash which gradually becomes pustular and then crusts over a period of 7 to 10 days. The pain is usually described by patients as burning, throbbing or stabbing, and usually lasts up to 1 month. A few patients may have generalized symptoms such as headache, fever, malaise or fatigue.
The Ayurvedic treatment of herpes zoster is aimed at controlling the pain, treating localized symptoms and preventing complications like neuralgia. In the initial stages, when the disease presents in the form of blisters, an ointment containing medicines like Chandan (Santalum album), Saariva (Hemidesmus indicus), Usheer (Vetiveria zizanioidis) and Haridra (Curcuma longa) is applied on the affected area. Once the blisters collapse with ulcer formation, an ointment containing Haridra, Daruharidra (Berberis aristata), Yashtimadhuk (Glycerrhiza glabra) and Mandukparni (Centella asiatica) is applied on the affected skin. This application is continued till a complete resolution of the lesions.
In order to control pain, medicines like Triphala-Guggulu, Yograj-Guggulu, Kaishor-Guggulu, Sinhanaad-Guggulu, Trayodashang-Guggulu, Vat-Gajankush-Ras, Maha-Vat-Vidhwans-Ras and Vish-Tinduk-Vati are used. Herbal medicines which have a definite antiviral action are used to control the herpes zoster virus. These medicines include Bhumiamalaki (Phyllanthus niruri), Yashtimadhuk, Manjishtha (Rubia cordifolia), Punarnava (Boerhaavia diffusa), Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), Bhrungraj (Eclipta alba), Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) and Kutki (Picrorrhiza kurroa). Herpes zoster pain which lasts for more than 1 month is termed as post-herpetic neuralgia. To prevent this complication, medicines like Kaishor-Guggulu, Tapyadi-Loh, Ekang-Veer-Ras and Bruhat-Vat-Chintamani are used. Herpes zoster lesions which do not heal easily or which have a tendency to occur are indicative of a severely immuno-compromised status like HIV. In such situations, medicines like Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Bala (Sida cordifolia), Suvarna-Malini-Vasant and Suvarna-Raj-Vangeshwar-Ras are used to improve the immune status of the body.
In most patients with herpes zoster, the rash usually resolves within 2 to 3 weeks. It is important to prevent post-herpetic neuralgia, especially in elderly patients who are more prone to complications. Patients with involvement of the eyes should be referred to an Ophthalmologist for appropriate treatment.