07 October, 2009

What to do about Chicken Pox

Chicken pox seems to be making the 'rounds recently. Since the vaccine, few young children have had the experience of this formerly common, mild, but uncomfortable childhood disease. Older children, and even adults, are more likely to have a difficult time with the outbreak.

I did some research on chicken pox. Herpes zoster is implicated in both chicken pox and shingles. Chicken pox is generally a mild disease and runs its course in a week or so. But it certainly can cause some children a great deal of discomfort, what with the constant itching. They scratch and scratch, which can cause secondary infections and scarring.

What to do about the itching:

* The first thing to do is to cut those little finger nails just as short as possible. Many times the little ones will scratch without thinking about it. They even scratch in their sleep. Scratching seems to make the itching more intense, causing more scratching....
* When my little ones got chicken pox 15 years ago (Micah brought them home from the church nursery, then the others got them for Thanksgiving), I was told that it is best to encourage them to break out. Suppressing the pox allows the virus to lodge deeper in their system and they are more likely to get shingles later in life. So put the kiddies in a hot (100 degrees or so) bath with the oatmeal pack below, and let them play. I remember my mom plunking the boys in the tub several times a day when I brought them home from kindergarten to my 3 preschool brothers.
* Of course there is oatmeal. It is very soothing and even nutritive to the skin. This helps to cut the itching and to help the lesions go away more quickly with less chance of scarring. I like to put some in a muslin bag (or put it in the middle of a washcloth, pull the corners together, and fasten with a rubber band). The oatmeal pack can be used like soap in a hot bath. Of course, it makes a BIG mess in the tub, but it cleans up easily, if you don't let it dry. Micah liked to carry the damp pack around with him so he could rub it on any itchy spots.
* Contrary to so many other ailments, it is recommended to keep the little one out of direct sun, for the most part, during the active phase. Somehow, the sunshine seems to stimulate the action of herpes viruses, leading to more scratching, more itching, and consequently to more scarring.
* Apply a wet tea bag (let it soak in hot water a few minutes to hydrate and cool first) to any areas that are particularly vexing. It is astringent and helps to dry up the oozy stuff, allowing that part to get past more quickly.
* Good old aloe vera juice will also help the lesions and prevent scarring.
* A yellow dock tea can be used as a wash to soothe the itching and feed the skin for a quicker conclusion.
* Some lavender oil can ease itching, help the blisters, and prevent scars. Just make sure it is real lavender rather than lavendin. Lavedin is a hybrid used by the perfume industry for scent because it is more productive.
* Old fashioned witch hazel is another astringent that can help dry up those gooey sores.
* Geranium oil is used for all sorts of skin issues. It is antimicrobial, very soothing, and helps return the skin to its normal supple condition.

Herbs that are useful as teas or in capsules:

* Of course echinacea is a good immune system booster, although I usually have the best results when I use it at the beginning of the illness.
* You can use Thieves oil blend on the feet, just like you can for any other bacteria/viral/fungus infection.
* Burdock is used for an internal and external cleanser. It is amazing how much of a mess it can clear up.
* Lemon balm is another general tonic that is gentle enough for babies. It also has some anti-viral activity and is very calming.
* Catnip is often used like lemon balm. It is very calming to the nervous system.
* Another anti-viral herb often used for herpes viruses is St. John's wort. It can be used as a tea, or there is an extract infused in olive oil that is often applied topically. I have some bottles of St. John's wort (infused) oil left over from trying to help my sister through her depression. The only caveat on St. John's wort is that some have found an increased sensitivity to sunlight after using it.
* Cat's Claw (from South America) is used to shore up the immune system and as an anti-inflammatory.
* Juniper is often used for nervous system issues. It is highly anti-inflammatory.
* One of my favorite herbs is slippery elm bark. It can be substituted for oatmeal above. This is not really a tea, it is more often consumed as a gruel (mix the powder in warm water until it makes a soft slurry - really a lot like oatmeal). Slippery elm is highly nutritive although it can clear out the bowels gently, but thoroughly. Many times bowel congestion adds stress to a body already trying its hardest to get rid of whatever is ailing it. The old herbalists (and some modern natural healers) emphasize the value of cleaning out the colon when one is ill. After all, isn't that the body's own natural tendency?

Certain nutritional issues may be helpful as well:

* The amino acid arginine seems to aggravate any of those herpes cousins. I used to get cold sores when under stress. Avoiding certain foods is recommended: gelatin, sesame, nuts, and peanuts, cod, soy, bacon, and chocolate.
* Lysine, another amino acid, has the opposite effect. It is anti viral, and seems to lessen the severity and length of herpes virus outbreak. You can find lysine in turkey, chicken, fish, parmazan, cottage & ricotta cheese, yeast, & wheat germ. I used to keep a container of lysine supplements around for emergencies.
* Vitamin A (as beta carotene - think green and orange veggies) is particularly useful for keeping the skin healthy. It also aids the immune system.
* B vitamins, particularly B 12, biotin, choline, PABA, and inositol, are particularly helpful for the nervous system. Herpes viruses seem to favor irritating the nervous system, so the B vitamins are particularly helpful. They may ease some of the itching. One of my teachers used to say about getting B vitamins: beans and greens! Of course B12 is found in meat, dairy, and fortified foods.
* Vitamin C is highly anti-inflammatory and is well known for shoring up the immune system. Fresh fruit is easily digested and welcome to most pun'kins.
* Vitamin E can be applied directly to the lesion. Just pop a hole in a capsule and squeeze directly on where it is needed.
* Zinc is essential to optimal immune function. Find zinc in shellfish, fortified and whole grain cereals, liver, sesame, pumpkin, & squash seeds, wheat germ & bran, beef and game meats, and yeast.

This should give you a good number of choices. Many of these same remedies are suggested for shingles.

The herpes zoster virus can hide dormant in a person's body for years, even decades. When the immune system is seriously compromised by stress, nutritional factors, or whatever, the virus makes a re-appearance. It favors erupting along nerves which are close under the skin. Theories say the virus hides somewhere in the nervous system. Some sources suggest it lodges at the base of the spine. So additional nerve related herbs are suggested (scullcap, black cohosh, blue vervain, crampbark, valarian, sage, and wild yam).

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