Dietary and Lifestyle Considerations
Reducing stress is one way to prevent shingles outbreaks. Psychological stress has been linked to shingles outbreaks, and major depression was shown to decrease cellular immunity to the varicella-zoster virus and increase the risk of shingles (Irwin 1998). In addition, a study reported that people who developed shingles experienced, in the six months preceding the outbreak, significantly more frequent events that they perceived as being stressful. Higher levels of perceived stress were also identified as a risk factor for oral lesions with HSV-1 (Schmader 1990; Stock 2001).
In addition to relieving stress, other techniques can help relieve symptoms associated with shingles. Cool baths and using cool, wet compresses on the blisters can help dry the blisters and relieve itching and pain (Mayo Clinic 2011; Schoenstadt 2011). Good hygiene and daily washing is another important consideration; maintaining trimmed fingernails may help reduce the damage caused by scratching and it also prevents secondary bacterial infections (Schoenstadt 2011). Moreover, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and getting plenty of rest can strengthen the immune system (Schoenstadt 2011). One study showed that individuals who ate less than one serving of fruit per week had a more than three-fold higher risk of shingles as compared to those with more than three servings per day (Thomas 2006).
Oral herpes (HSV-1) outbreaks can be triggered by exposure to sunlight and by the common cold, but there is currently no indication that these are involved in triggering genital herpes outbreaks (Bridges 2012a, Randall 2012). Although it can be difficult to avoid sunlight entirely, minimizing sunlight exposure may help reduce outbreaks, and it is recommended to use sunscreen on the lips and skin (Randall 2012).
Genital herpes can be triggered by the irritation caused by friction during sexual intercourse (Bridges 2012a). Using water-based lubricants can help reduce this irritation. However, lubricants that contain the spermicide nonoxynol-9 can irritate mucous membranes (Bridges 2012a).
Stress is also implicated in causing herpes outbreaks: ongoing stress lasting for over a week appears to be a stronger trigger for genital herpes outbreaks than any other single factor. Therefore, reducing emotional stress is one of the most important strategies for preventing herpes outbreaks (Longo 1989; Rand 1990; Padgett 1998; Buske-Kirschbaum 2001; Chida 2009; Kushnir 2010; Bridges 2012b; Bridges 2012a). Getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, exercising, and using relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation may help reduce stress (Bridges 2012b).
Finally, one important technique for managing HSV flare-ups is to minimize the length of time that the blisters are present and to avoid complications. This can be done by keeping the sores clean and dry and avoiding touching or scratching them, which will also help keep the virus from spreading to other areas of the body, such as the eyes (Randall 2012). For genital herpes, washing the sores with saline and then drying them with tissues and warm air is another helpful strategy (Royal Adelaide Hospital 2010).