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Self help with herpes (shingles, cold sores etc)

Shingles on the chest by Preston Hunt

Shingles on the chest by Preston Hunt

Shingles is a right pain.


I should know.

I'm suffering right now as I type this!

I had chicken pox over fifty years ago as a child, and have never suffered since with any form of herpes - not even a single cold sore.

So I was completely bemused when I found a couple of burn like marks on my chest, which hurt like hell. I thought maybe my bra had been rubbing, though the same one had not done so previously, even in hot weather.

At the same time I was experiencing strange stabbing nerve pain in my chest, specifically under the left breast area.

This had been going on for a couple of weeks and I was worried it was angina. But the pain was worse at night, not after exercise, so I dismissed the idea and put it down to muscle tension - massage helped a little.

Then last week strange looking red spots appeared on my left shoulder blade. They were becoming quite painful to touch, so I guessed something was amiss, but couldn't quite understand what.

Suddenly I had a road to Damascus experience and the scales fell from my eyes - SHINGLES!

How could I have been so stupid, so blind to the truth?

Clearly I was - still am - suffering from a nasty bout of herpes zoster, the medical name for shingles.

I checked it out on the internet, and sure enough, it was as clear as a moonlit night, I had classic signs - a red, intensely itchy, lumpy, burning rash on the back with agonising nerve pain which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

Sometimes you can experience a fever and feelings of general malaise, but I had not had either of those so was completely off my guard.

Two Walnuts and four hazelnuts  by Garitzko

Two Walnuts and four hazelnuts by Garitzko

The problem

I rang the emergency out of hours doctor for advice.

She was kind, but clearly I was on my own with this. So I set about researching the subject; in particular I wanted to know why I contracted shingles.

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I know it is because the dormant herpes virus suddenly becomes reactivated. Apparently you are more susceptible if you are elderly, have a weakened immune system, suffer from cancer or HIV, but none of those things applied to me.

Then I stumbled across a potentially vital piece of information -


Yep, you read it right.


No, I'm not going nuts (although sometimes I feel I am at 3am and in agony).

Apparently nuts contain very high levels of a substance called 'Arginine', which in laboratory tests has been shown to reactivate the herpes virus.

And I'd been eating handfuls of them. Everyday. For months and months.

Nuts are not the only culprit. Chocolate is also high in arginine. And I'd been eating that too.

Oats also contain a small amount, but as they are usually eaten with milk, this is not so bad, as milk counteracts the effects.

Chocolate coated nuts are particularly bad. Aaarrggh! I luv 'em! Particularly chocolate brazils. I'm drooling at the very thought. But that's it, no more nuts and no more chocolate. I can't go through this again, ever.

Stupid, ignorant me. If only I'd realised sooner.

If you are particularly prone to herpes attacks then even a relatively small amount of nuts and chocolate can precipitate an outbreak.

However it is important to say that not everyone will contract shingles or a cold sore after eating foods containg arginine. Much depends on your individual bio chemistry.

So if you aren't prone to herpes outbreaks then don't worry. Carry on eating the nuts, but don't binge like I did, just in case.

Chocolate, by André Karwath

Chocolate, by André Karwath

The cure

But wait! That's not the end of the story. The best is yet to come, so it's not all doom and gloom for all you nut lovers and chocoholics out there!

There may be an 'antidote' and it comes in the form of an amino acid called L-Lysine.

Just as arginine has been scientifically proven to cause a herpes outbreak, so L-Lysine has been showed in lab tests to prevent, or stop an attack in its tracks.

As soon as you realise you are going down with a cold sore for example (and I'm sure the telltale tingle will tell you) then head for the L-Lycine. It is readily available from drug stores or on the internet.

Once you have an outbreak

So much for prevention - what about a cure?

Sadly there is no cure for the actual virus. Once you have it in your system it's there for life. Sorry.

But you can mitigate the awful symptoms.

The doctor may prescribe you some cream to help with the burning sensation in the skin. But you can just as easily make your own.

The answer is to fight fire with fire!

Make up some cream by chopping up then pounding red hot chillies (not too many - one should do the trick!) and adding to some body lotion. You can also use cayenne pepper. Apply to the affected area twice a day and persevere for at least 3 weeks.

Not only will this help when you have the outbreak but it will help with nerve pain which is a particularly distressing symptom of shingles.

It will feel hot at first, but don't worry. It is only a sensation - you won't burn yourself and after a while the skin will become accustomed to it.

You can also help yourself by making up a tincture of St John's Wort flowers. St John's Wort contains a chemical called Hypericin which is shown to have anti-viral properties, specifally the herpes virus.

Simply put plenty of the flowers in some vodka and leave for a a week - the liquid will turn red. Take 2 teaspoons twice a day in water.

Melissa, or Lemon Balm, is another herb which is reported to have anti herpetic properties, as do Rosemary, Thyme and Hyssop. You can make a really delicious tea using the leaves from these plants. Go easy on the Hyssop, though. Too much may be toxic!

You can also make a compress using the leaves by soaking them in boiling water and applying to the skin directly on a piece of clean cloth.

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers by Peripitus

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers by Peripitus

I hope I have been of help in some way and would really appreciate some feedback!


just helen (author) from Dartmoor UK on April 20, 2015:

Hi Anna, thank you for commenting on my hub! I'm sorry to hear of your troubles. Unfortunately I am not a doctor, so cannot really advise you. All I can say is try some of my home remedies and pay attention to your diet. Maybe visit your doctor? I hope you manage to get on top of this, as I know how painful it can be.

Anna on April 17, 2015:

I'd just like to get a little advice, I am now 23 and have been suffering from "cold sores" since I was 5 months old, however these are not normal cold sores. When I was 5 months, I had exma covering the majority of my body, when came along the herpes virus. The virus came through every part of my body that was affected by the exma, which means now I can pretty much get a cold sore anywhere (not genital), and th virus is incredibly strong. I don't react to Lysine and cold sore cream doesn't do a thing. I currently have a cold sore on both shoulders at the same time. Odd huh? Would you have any idea what form of herpes this is? It seems exactly like shingles but I know this is usually on one side of the body. Anyway, if you can give me a little advice that would be great!

just helen (author) from Dartmoor UK on August 01, 2012:

just helen (author) from Dartmoor UK on August 01, 2012:

Thank youfor that, marthamuldoon. I'll read it.

Since typing my previous comment I've had second thoughts about vaccination as I wouldn't want this again, especially in the trigeminal nerve!

marthamuldoon from Austin, TX on August 01, 2012:

While shingles itself is painful, some people also experience something called post-herpetic neuralgia, which can be quite debilitating, a good reason to be treated, either way, as the anti-viral can lessen the chances of getting it. Hope your situation resolves soon. Interesting article about the vaccine in the UK -

just helen (author) from Dartmoor UK on August 01, 2012:

Thank you both for your comments. And sorry for the typos which I've now (hopefully) corrected!

I can't say I'm very keen on the idea of a vaccine, though. There are dangers with them too!

Also I don't know whether we have it here in the UK?

marthamuldoon from Austin, TX on July 31, 2012:

There's a vaccine now for shingles, recommended for everyone over 60.

Also, if you think you have shingles, and you see a doctor right away, they can put you on an antiviral that can help lessen the outbreak.

Not sure either of those will help you now, but maybe others will look into the vaccine or ask their doctor about the antiviral.

Kim Kennedy from uk on July 31, 2012:

Sorry to hear you have shingles, I know they're very painful, hope it clears soon. Your hub's very interesting, I've not had a cold sore in a while but will bear your points in mind, thank you. The "fight fire with fire" sounds interesting.

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