As a result of my pain meds reluctance, I had to develop other pain management strategies. Following are a few things I've learned to help deal with the chronic pain caused by shingles. Depending on which part of your body shingles occurred, not all of these tips may be applicable.
- Start with an ice pack on the affected area. (See below for how to make a great homemade slush pack). Be sure to put the ice pack in a pillow case or wrap once in a towel - do not apply directly to the skin. This is especially important for shingles sufferers who are also experiencing numbness in the area - you don't want to end up with frostbite on top of all the pain! The standard advice is to use an ice pack for only about 20 minutes. I think that advice comes from folks who have never had shingles. I generally leave my ice pack on for an hour or more. (Yes, that may sound extreme, but so is the pain of shingles). Just be sure to have some barrier (be it a towel, pillowcase, clothes, etc) between the ice pack and your exposed skin!
- Follow up the ice pack application by soaking in a very warm bath with either epsom or sea salt added. If you're only soaking the affected body part and you're also experiencing numbness, be sure to check the temperature of the water with a non-affected body part so you don't inadvertently burn yourself! If you can't soak the affected body part, warm moist compresses may help. The moist part is important; I found dry heat (aka a heating pad) to actually cause more pain. You mileage may vary.
- After you've soaked and dried off, gently pat down the entire affected area with apple cider vinegar. If shingles is in your eye area, you want to be very careful not to let the vinegar get in your eye or on your eyelid or directly under the eye. (And you have my deepest sympathies, seriously).
- Whenever you are most pain-free, try to sleep. My worst pain tends to occur sometime after 11 p.m., usually between 2 and 4 a.m. I've given up a social life and have been getting to bed by 6:30 p.m. just to get enough hours of sleep in before the pain wakes me up. The more rested I am, the better I seem able to manage the pain effectively.
- In a large ziploc bag (the kind with a good seal) mix 1 cup of vodka (or rubbing alcohol) with 2 cups of water.
- Squeeze out as much air as you can, seal the bag, and place inside a second ziploc bag.
- Squeeze as much air out of that bag as well, then seal and freeze.