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Listerine Helps Ease Shingles Pain

Applying Listerine to the rash caused by shingles can ease shingles pain for hours, according to some of our readers. Could it help you?

Shingles is a common affliction that happens to middle-age or older people who had chickenpox as children. The rash, which can be excruciating, is often one-sided because it follows the route of the nerves under the skin. While there are medications that can help, they work best on shingles pain if used early in the episode. That means getting to a health care provider who can make the diagnosis about as soon as the discomfort begins, even before a rash appears.

Listerine to Ease Shingles Pain:

Q. I have an unemployed friend who has no health insurance. He had an outbreak of shingles on the right side of his face that made his ear and jaw ache. The shingles was developing into a raw area.

I read your newsletter and website. In researching shingles I came across a one-paragraph mention of using Listerine on shingles. We thought this sounded logical and he tried it.

After only 72 hours of applying the Listerine three times daily, the results are pretty remarkable. The sores have dried up and are scabbing over, his pain is almost gone and he is healing nicely. This really worked in his case.

Treating a Shingles Rash with Listerine:

A. It is possible that your friend’s improvement with Listerine was a coincidence and that the outbreak would have healed without treatment. We have heard from several people, however, that old-fashioned Listerine can ease shingles pain. We’re happy that it seemed to help your friend.

We suspect that the benefits may be due in part to the activity of menthol, thymol and eucalyptol on transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in nerves (Caceres et al, British Journal of Pharmacology, May 2017).  Menthol, thymol and similar compounds that activate TRP channels seem to have local anesthetic effects (Kawasaki et al, Life Sciences, March 14, 2013). Methyl salicylate (oil of wintergreen), another component of Listerine, also has significant anti-inflammatory effects (Li et al, Molecules, Nov. 23, 2016).

Other Helpful Remedies:

The CDC has suggested that colloidal oatmeal baths or soaks (Aveeno, for example) can help subdue the itching that may accompany shingles pain. Cool compresses soaked in a mixture of white vinegar with water may also be soothing.

Antiviral Medication:

Early use of an antiviral medicine such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) or valacyclovir (Valtrex) is the best treatment for shingles. When it comes to shingles pain, it’s best to see a doctor early enough to get a prescription, even though this might be a challenge without insurance.

Some people who have had repeated attacks of shingles have found that taking the amino acid supplement L-lysine at the first hint of an outbreak can help ward it off.

Revised 9/21/2017

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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