Herpes Simplex and Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

Acupuncture treats Herpes Simplex and Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

These two forms of herpes are cousins of a sort. For the sake of clarity, when I say herpes, I mean genital or oral herpes. When I say shingles, I mean herpes zoster.

Anatomy of human skin

Anatomy of Skin

Herpes simplex, also known as genital or oral herpes, are caused by a sexually transmitted infection. Shingles is caused by a re-activation of a latent chicken pox infection. Shingles will generally affect the body, with blister (vesicles) appearing along swathes of skin starting from the spine and wrapping around the body. Herpes is confined to the oral cavity (mouth and lips) or the genitals.

While the mechanisms and viruses that cause these conditions are seen as different in Western bio-medicine, they are considered almost identical in Chinese medicine theory. This allows me to treat herpes and shingles successfully and easily, regardless of where the outbreak is occurring on the body.

What are the causes and symptoms of Herpes and Shingles?


Herpes can occur in the mouth or on the genital. Genital herpes are accompanied by pain, itching and sores on called vesicles (blisters). Many infected people have no visible signs or symptoms. Herpes is contagious regardless of whether or not there are visible sores. Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Skin-to-skin or mouth-to-genital contact can spread herpes. After the initial infection, the virus can lie dormant in the body, reactivating several times a year.

Photograph of shingles zoster outbreak

Shingles Vesicles

Zoster / Shingles

Shingles is a painful rash caused by a viral infection. Shingles may occur anywhere on the body, but will almost always be one-sided and be confined to a wide strip of skin called a dermatome originating at the spine. Shingles is called by the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster). If you’ve never had chickenpox, you won’t ever have shingles. After a chickenpox infection, the virus lies dormant in the specific cells near the spinal cord. Many years later, often when the immune system is weak or during times of great stress, the virus reactivates causing shingles. Shingles is not life-threatening, but is often excruciatingly painful. During shingles outbreaks, vesicles (blisters) will develop along dermatome pathways. The pain in the effected area is usually described as burning, searing, and electric. After a couple of weeks, vesicles will dry up, forming a crust, and then heal.

After vesicles crust over and heal, it is common to continue to have pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia or post-zoster pain. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help to reduce the severity of outbreaks of shingles and stop pain. Acupuncture effectively treats post-herpetic neuralgia, too, which you can read about on the Post-herpetic Neuralgia page.

How does acupuncture treat Herpes and Shingles?

Itching and pain are hallmark signs of herpes and shingles. Researchers have shown, and I have seen clinically, acupuncture to stop pain and quell itch. From a modern perspective, acupuncture is working on the nerves and their neurotransmitters to stop itch and pain signals going to the brain. From a Chinese medicine perspective, acupuncture is harmonize the body’s organ systems and energetics to stop itch and stop pain.

When we add herbal medicine into the mix, we get even stronger and faster results. I give all of my shingles and herpes patients topical herbs to use to stop pain and itching. The herbs are made into a tea, which is applied to affected area. The tea can be gargled for oral herpes, used as a douche or sitz bath for genital herpes, or applied with a cotton ball for shingles. I also encourage the use o herbal medicine internally, so I will you a different tea to drink. We use these preparations during flare-ups to stop pain and itch. Some people, and I recommend this to all my patients, choose to take herbs in between flare-ups to try to prevent outbreaks.

My additional training in dermatology allows me to customize each treatment to you, the patient, and make sure you get the results you want.

To make an appointment with me for treatment, please go to the Appointments page. If you have further questions, feel free to ask me through the Contact page.