Geranium Oil Effective for Post-Shingles Pain
People suffering from pain following an outbreak of shingles may get relief by using topical geranium oil (Pelargonium spp.), according to a preliminary study in The American Journal of Medicine (2003;115:586–7). This finding is encouraging for the thousands of individuals who are stricken each year with this difficult-to-treat condition.
Shingles is caused by infection with the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. The initial manifestation of shingles is a cluster of painful blisters that appear on an area of the skin, and usually heal within three to ten days. In a significant minority of cases, the skin lesions are followed by chronic and sometimes debilitating pain (post-herpetic neuralgia) around the area that the skin lesions occurred. This chronic pain appears to be due to the persistence of the virus in the root of the nerve that supplies that area of the skin. Shingles develops most often in people with decreased immune function, such as the elderly or those with HIV or cancer. Prescription oral anti-viral medications such as acyclovir (Zovirax®), famciclovir (Famvir®), or valacyclovir (Valtrex®) may reduce the pain in some individuals. Topical capsaicin (Zostrix®) may also provide relief. While these treatments may take days or weeks to be effective, the new study suggests that geranium oil may help in a matter of minutes.
In the new study, 30 adults with post-herpetic neuralgia were assigned to receive one of five topical treatments. The groups received (1) 100% geranium oil, (2) 50% geranium oil in mineral oil, (3) 10% geranium oil in mineral oil, (4) mineral oil only, or (5) 0.025% capsaicin cream. Measurements of spontaneous and evoked pain using a scale of 0 (no pain) to 100 (worst possible pain) were taken at 2, 10, 15, 20, 30, 45, and 60 minutes following application of the respective topical treatment.
Pain was reduced in all participants receiving geranium oil and the degree of pain reduction was proportional to the amount of geranium oil in the topical mixture. Thus, those using 100% geranium oil had greater pain relief than those using 10% geranium oil. All groups receiving geranium oil had significant reductions in spontaneous and evoked pain, compared with those using plain mineral oil. A few minor skin reactions occurred in those using geranium oil, but all reactions resolved within one hour.
Some physicians have reported benefit by giving people with post-herpetic neuralgia injections of vitamin B12 daily or up to several times a week. Oral vitamin B12 does not appear to have the same benefit. Topical peppermint oil (Mentha piperita) or licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) may also be useful. Although the current study is preliminary, topical geranium oil is relatively safe and may provide faster pain relief than other treatments.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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