Herpes is a really common viral skin condition.
It is a virus that can cause occasional blisters on the skin and for most people does not pose any long term health problems.
Here at the HC you will learn all about what herpes is, what it looks like and how it can be managed effectively with correct treatment, good nutrition and a positive attitude.
Different Types of Herpes
There are 8 different types of herpes but here we mainly discuss Herpes simplex virus or HSV.
This is the virus that causes cold sores and genital herpes, and some other similar conditions like herpes whitlow (on the fingers) and herpes gladiatorum (also called wrestler’s herpes, often on the back, neck, chest, face, stomach or legs).
The Herpes varicella-zoster virus is another very common type of herpes which causes Shingles and Chickenpox. Although these conditions are not our main area of focus we do provide some general information about these, as well as support on our forums if you need someone to talk to.
OK. The first thing you need to know when it comes to herpes is that the symptoms can be so different from person to person that describing a “normal” outbreak can sometimes be a challenge.
In saying this, if you have just noticed something unusual pop up on your skin and you are wondering if it could be herpes, or if you have just been diagnosed and want to know what to expect, this is how herpes can manifest:
Prodromal or Warning Symptoms in the area (signs you might feel before anything pops up)
If it is your first ever outbreak you are likely to notice flu-like symptoms, such as
- Slightly swollen or sore lymph nodes in your groin, neck and armpits (could feel like peas under the skin)
- Sore throat
- Sore joints or backache
These flu-like symptoms are far less likely to happen if you have an outbreak in the future because your body will have by that time produced HSV antibodies which help your immune system recognize and deal with the herpes more quickly next time around.
A couple of days later (give or take) you may notice:
- Lesions which can look like sores, paper cuts or red bumps
- They can be painful and tender
- A cluster of small fluid filled blisters may develop
- These blisters will burst and form into an open sore or ulcer which later begins to crust or heal
- In moist areas the new layer of skin will fill in and heal without a scab (such as inside the vaginal lips or under the foreskin)
- In drier locationsa scab will usually form over the healing ulcer (such as on the mouth or lips, the shaft of the penis, or the outside of the vagina)
- Provided you do not pick or injure the scab the skin tends to heal perfectly without any scarring after several days.
- Sometimes the skin left after an outbreak is pale in color but this usually settles and heals perfectly after a little bit of time
- Also read: 6 Stages of a Typical Herpes Simplex Outbreak
- Tingling down one or both legs
- Painful urination
- A discharge from the penis or vagina
- A yeast infection in women
- After a person’s first exposure to HSV they may experience a new crop of herpes blisters occur 5-7 days after the first batch has healed. The complete first episode may last 2-3 weeks.
People with a history of cold sores are likely to have a milder reaction when they first contract genital herpes due to antibodies that they have already acquired against HSV.
Herpes photos that you see in Doctor’s handbooks and floating about on the internet are seldom a true representation of what herpes looks like for the average person. This is because these case studies are often photographs taken of primary outbreaks where the immune system has not yet had a chance to mount a response to the infection, or are worst case scenarios.
For many people genital herpes and cold sores can look like nothing more than a little tear or paper cut on the skin. For most people, it resembles a cluster of little blisters which ulcerates and scabs over before it heals. It may not be as bad as you think, and although some people’s outbreaks can be pretty rough and do look like those scary photos they certainly don’t portray herpes as it is for everyone. Mild pictures of herpes
If you are having any type of unusual activity “down there” or have noticed symptoms that you suspect could be cold sores, genital herpes or any type of skin infection PLEASE visit your doctor or an STI clinic without delay.
You will save yourself an immense amount of mental worry and anxiety if you find out accurately what is causing the issue. It may or may not be herpes, and regardless of how well you have researched potential conditions there is no substitute for a professional test that will determine this.
A correct diagnosis is confidential and there are places that will test for free.
Getting a proper diagnosis now and not later means that you will be able to treat the condition correctly, understand your body and what you are dealing with, prevent it getting worse and better protect the people in your life who you love.
Information about Herpes Testing
The number one question our Support Team get asked by our new visitors is how to deal with the pain of genital herpes outbreaks.
There are a range of options that will effectively relieve the pain, to name just a few you can try:
- Epsom Salts baths, if you have no tub use a bowl of warm water with two tablespoons of salt and bathe softly with cotton wool.
- Nappy rash or diaper cream (basically any zinc oxide cream, strictly without cortisone or steroids)
- Antiviral medications, such as Valtrex prescribed by your Doctor
- Numbing gel or spray (e.g. Bactine spray) or local anaesthetic ointment (e.g. lidocaine 5% ointment)
- Pain relief medication such as ibuprofen, panadol or aspirin (always read the label and use only as directed)
- Pat try with a tissue after bathing or going to the toilet. Avoid scented soaps and products.
- If female coat panty liner with zinc cream, it helps throughout the day when moving
- Ice packs (wrapped in cloth, do not apply straight ice) can help with itching
- Hair dryer on cool setting can also relieve pain and itching
- Drinking lots of water (dilutes urine), pouring water over the area while peeing, or peeing in the bath or shower can help reduce the pain. Applying a numbing ointment 10 minutes before going to the toilet will also help.
- Always wash your hands before applying a medication
- Do not over wash the area or use too many products at one time as it can make the area irritated
Relationships, Sex and Intimacy
Your sex life is not over. You are just as awesome as you ever were just now your story has unfolded with a little twist.
If you gather your strengths and rise above the STD stereotype this in itself will make you a confident, enlightened and compassionate human being. And that, my friend, is truly attractive.
It is your attitude that will drive love in or out of your life, not herpes. So don’t let your attitude be swayed by something that is largely shaped by ignorance, misinformation and fear.
The reality is that it is unlikely that a person will spread herpes if they take a couple of precautions. If you are honest with your partners before you sleep with them they will usually respect you for being up-front and think very highly of you for having the courage to be truthful.
If you’ve created a connection that’s powerful and meaningful that person is likely to decide to sleep with you regardless of herpes. If you get to the point where you are completely at peace with having herpes, and are confident enough within yourself that it truly doesn’t phase you, this will transcend onto any potential partners that you meet. And this then is how your future partners are likely to view herpes too – as a minor detail.
If you are still unsure pop into the forums and say hello so we can help to put your concerns at ease, or browse our articles in the Living with Herpes Section.
Having a Family
If you have herpes you can still have a happy, healthy family in the exact same way as everyone else. It doesn’t reduce your chance of conceiving and if you are a female with herpes you can still in most cases have a normal vaginal childbirth. There are a couple of sensible precautions that couples should take if herpes is an issue and you can read about them more in our Having Children with Herpes section.