Herpes pertains to a set of diseases that appear with an eruption of painful red sores or blisters on the eyes, lips, skin or, genitals. The factors that cause this condition are the closely related viruses of varicella-zoster, herpes simplex 1 and 2 usually combined with a weak immune function. Shingles (varicella zoster), genital sores (herpes 2), and cold sores (herpes 1) are the most common symptoms of herpes.
TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine addresses these diseases in a couple of ways: herbs with proven anti-viral qualities as well as herbs that address the constitution of the affected person.
Facial and Oral Herpes
Facial and oral herpes are also referred to as cold sores. Symptoms are often seen on the lips although they can also develop on the affected eye (ophthalmic herpes) and close to the nose. The herpes simplex 1 virus is the cause of facial/oral herpes; the herpes simplex 2; on the other hand, more often than not affects the genitals. However, there are also cases when the herpes simplex 1 virus affects the genitals and the simplex 2 virus brings about symptoms on the face. These facts, however, are not important in this article, which will mainly discuss the TM treatment of herpes.
When a person is infected with the virus for the first time, it usually occurs during childhood when it may be completely asymptomatic. When it enters the body, the virus resides in the nerve cells of the mouth/face in a dormant state and occasionally activates into acute cold sore symptoms. A sensation of burning, soreness, and tingling precedes the cold sores which eventually crusts and weeps over with a yellow scab. During flare ups, there arises a high likelihood of infection especially when another person comes in contact with the fluid.
TCM believes that this entire process is a sign of Damp Heat and Fire Toxin. In TCM, bacterial, viral, fungal or any type of infection is a type of toxin. Herpes patients are well aware of how fiery and very hot their condition can be which is the typical sign of Damp Heat and Fire Toxin; the condition can be aggravated by eating spicy food, fever, stress, or exposure to sunlight. Damp-heat is manifested by fluid-filled, infected, wet blisters.
TCM Treatment of herpes have both short-term and long-term objectives. Lessening or stopping impending flare-ups is the obvious short-term target and this is wholly dependent on the timing of treatment. When herbs are used during the initial onset of the sensitivity and tingling, the physical manifestations of the sore can be easily suppressed.
Eliminating, or at least, lessening the flare ups are the long-term goals of TCM treatment. To achieve this, the practitioner must evaluate the reason for the dormant virus’s flare up. Two underlying reasons may be the probable cause: Deficient Qi and Liver Fire.
When a patient has Deficient Qi, his/her immune function and energy stores are low. This gives the herpes free rein to wreak havoc on the body. Deficient Qi may be due to eating a poor diet for many years and/or constitutional weakness. When herpes flare ups occur, the toxins burden the body and cause the Qi to become even more deficient. Usually, the pattern of disharmony leads to signs and symptoms such as a pale tongue with teeth marks and with a yellowish greasy coating, digestive problems, tiredness, and paleness. Treatment of this pattern is aimed at attacking the herpes toxin and tonifying the qi.
In this type of disharmony scenario, the patient suffers from pre-existing congested Fire and Heat. This means that his/her body is hot most of the time which easily triggers the herpes virus symptoms. Patients affected by this condition are usually strong and robust with a symptomatic red tongue. Liver Fire can be the result of frequent eating of very warming foods, such as barbecued meats or long-term unreleased resentment and frustration. Fire can easily trigger skin eruptions on the upper body as it has a natural tendency to blaze upwards. It’s no wonder that eye herpes is usually the result of Liver Fire. This disharmony can be resolved when the herpes toxin and Liver Fire are simultaneously addressed with herbal medicine. Besides that, herbs that directly address the symptoms of the eyes and lips are included in the treatment.
Lower Body/ Genital Herpes
In lower body/genital herpes, the body parts usually affected are the buttocks, perineum, and the genitals. The virus can be transmitted sexually.
The same type of procedure in diagnosing facial and oral herpes is used to diagnose lower body/genital herpes with one addition: Dampness is a more important co-factor that must be addressed.
The reason for this is that the urinary and reproductive organs are a very warm and moist environment even when the patient is quite healthy. Under the influence of emotional stress, hormonal cycles, or extra heat from herpes toxin, moisture can easily thicken and congeal causing stagnation or obstruction, which in turn, induces further heat. This is the most conducive way of causing more flare ups to occur.
As part of the treatment, the patient is evaluated to see just how much Qi Deficiency versus Liver Heat plays a part. The practitioner needs to take all these factors into consideration. The practitioner then addresses all of them with a mixture of medicinal herbs. As with oral herpes, timely treatment can help prevent an outbreak.
Herpes Zoster is caused by the chicken pox virus, which can lie dormant for decades. It may activate (flare) in an opportune time. Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is closely associated with old age, other illnesses, or a weakening immunity. Individuals past the age of 50 are the most prone to this disease. Shingles blisters often affect the intercostal nerve (found along the ribs). The condition is quite painful. The pain is preceded and followed by hypersensitivity of the affected strip of skin even if the blisters have dissipated a long time ago. In its acute phase, this condition is deemed the result of Liver Fire and is treated as such. Once the condition is resolved, the next phase of the treatment is the tonification of Qi.
TCM can effectively treat herpes in all its manifestations. As often is the case with herbal treatment, the longer the problem was allowed to linger, and the more intense its severity, the longer the treatment will take. More often than not, however, with a few treatments a reduction in the frequency of attacks can be quickly observed.
TCM cannot cure herpes infection. It cannot remove eliminate all traces of varicella or herpes from the body, but it can make it highly unlikely for these condition to flare up.
Amy-SuiQun Lui, L.Ac.
Asian Health Center
27059 Grand Army of the Republic Hwy
Cleveland, OH 44143
Tel: (440) 833-0983