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Homeopathic help for people with shingles

"Oh, Dr. Dooley," she giggled in her German accent. "Ohhhh, Dr. Dooley the lies I've been telling!"
     I was speaking with the wife of an 86-year-old man, both patients of mine for about 8 years. The husband is the son of German immigrants to the United States. He was raised in a German community in Kansas and met his wife in Germany after World War II. In recent weeks he had been afflicted with a case of shingles over his right scalp and part of his face. His treatment had been entirely homeopathic and very effective.
     The wife continued: "Ve vere at the endocrinologist's. He said, 'These shingles are doing vell. Vhat kind of treatment is Dr. Dooley giving? Antiviral and pain medications?' I said, 'Oh yeah, all that shtuff.'" She waved her arm dismissively as she spoke and was now laughing out loud.
     "Then he said, 'It's time for your flu shots.' So I said, 'Vell, Dr. Dooley is taking care of all that!'" She was now laughing so hard at her fabrications that she could barely stay in her chair.
     By this time her infectious laugh had me, as well as her husband, smirking along. I would prefer, of course, that she told her other doctors the truth about our success. But these two patients have been involved with natural health for about 40 years. They've endured so much condescension and disapproval from the medical profession for their health choices over the years that they've apparently adopted a new course of action—intentional subterfuge. It's a shame, really, that this doctor doesn't know what an aid homeopathy is in treating patients with shingles (or in preventing and treating the flu, but that is another subject).
     As you may be aware, shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The virus, after being contracted as chicken pox, tends to stay in the body in a dormant state. Later in life the virus may erupt again appearing as vesicular skin lesions and is often associated with extreme pain. These lesions can appear anywhere on the body surface but always follow the distribution of a nerve root, hence the lesions appear only on one side of the body in a kind of stripe usually three to six inches in width. Shingles is sometimes followed by a neuralgia—a chronic pain syndrome in the affected body area. This neuralgia is sometimes associated with hypersensitivity of the skin to touch and may be quite painful.
     Conventional medical treatment consists of anti-viral agents and pain control. Homeopathic medical treatment consists of giving a similar medicine, that is, one that could cause similar symptoms in larger doses but in small doses can help the body heal itself.
     As always in homeopathy, the remedy that gives the best response is the remedy that best matches both the specific disease symptoms of the patient as well as the symptoms of the patient in general (such as chilliness, thirst, mood, etc.).
     And in patients with shingles, remember to repeat the remedy frequently. In my experience, inadequate frequency of dosing is the most common reason for poor results in treating patients who have acute illnesses (such as shingles) with homeopathy.

Rhus tox: Rhus tox is homeopathically prepared poison oak and is a common remedy for patients with shingles. The itching, vesicular nature of poison oak is very similar to most cases of shingles. It is especially indicated if the patient is restless and desires a regular change of position.
     Ranunculus bulbosa: This is the homeopathic preparation of the herb "buttercup." It is commonly indicated for patients with shingles, especially where the burning and itching are worse with contact. The vesicles sometimes have a bluish quality. The common Ranunculus keynote symptom, where the patient is worse before a storm, need not be present for the remedy to help.
     Arsenicum album: The main skin indications for patients with shingles needing Arsenicum are itching and burning, but the burning is somewhat relieved by the application of heat (and often worse with cold). In general, patients needing this remedy are chilly, thirsty, and restless.
     Graphites: This remedy is usually indicated for treatment of patients with shingles in the later stages of the disease if the vesicles have taken on a crusty quality, especially if there is a sticky exudation, often honey-colored.
     Hypericum: This famous homeopathic first-aid remedy is indicated in patients whose shingles have excessive painfulness. There may be intense itching, but it is the excess pain along the nerve, often tingling and burning, that is the main indication.
     Cantharis: The main indication for this remedy in patients with shingles is that the burning is extreme and associated with a feeling of rawness. The burning is worse with touch and better with cold applications.
     There are, of course, many other remedies that might be indicated for these patients, but I think that with just these remedies listed above most patients can be helped. If you get confused and are not sure which remedy to give, you will probably do well to give Rhus tox for the initial stages of the disease and Graphites for the later stages. If the symptoms change and another remedy seems better indicated, please change remedies.

For good results in patients with shingles, repeat the remedy frequently, at least every few hours. The commonly available potencies of 30X or 30C available in stores should work fine, although you could use the 6X or 200C the same way and still expect good results.
     If the patient is taking other medications you can still treat them homeopathically at the same time. The only problem in this situation is that the symptoms of the patient tend to be changed by the other medicines and so it gets a little harder to choose an effective remedy. There are not, however, any drug interactions between the homeopathic remedies and the conventional medications that you need to be concerned about.

Chronic neuralgia
Homeopathy is also effective in treating patients for the chronic neuralgia which sometimes follows the shingles. Bear in mind, however, that this is a bit harder to do and beyond the scope of this column. A professional consultation with a homeopath would probably be the best course of action in this situation. I can honestly say that to date no patient whom I have treated for an acute case of shingles has ever developed a chronic neuralgia. The patients whom I have treated for post-shingles neuralgia were all patients treated non-homeopathically for shingles who came to see me much later on.

The bottom line
The bottom line is, if you have a friend or relative with a case of shingles, jump right in and start giving them an indicated remedy and repeat it frequently. You are not going to hurt anything and you may help them a great deal.

About the author:
Dr. Timothy R. Dooley is a graduate of National College of Naturopathic Medicine as well as Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine. He practices homeopathy in San Diego, California, and teaches at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences. He is the author of the easy-to-read introductory book, Homeopathy: Beyond Flat Earth Medicine. The complete text can be read on-line at For more information, visit He can be reached at (619) 297-8641 or