What Is Herpes?
Genital herpes is a viral infection that can cause blisters and open sores on the genitals caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Oral herpes (also called cold sores or fever blisters) are painful blisters that form on or near the lips and inside the mouth that are usually caused by HSV-1.
Is There a Cure for Herpes?
There is no cure for herpes, but the virus tends to cause the most symptoms during the first few years. After that, while herpes does not go away entirely, it usually causes mild to no symptoms.
When the virus is active, people can take medications to help reduce and prevent symptoms. Antiviral medicines may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of genital herpes or oral herpes and speed up the healing of an outbreak, such as:
Home remedies to help reduce the pain of genital herpes during an outbreak include:
- Sit in a “Sitz bath” or a bathtub with warm, shallow water for about 20 minutes
- Avoid bubble baths
- Keep the genital area clean and dry
- Avoid tight clothing
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to ease pain
If needed, treatment for oral herpes may include:
- Antiviral topical ointments
- Acyclovir (Zovirax ointment or cream)
- Penciclovir (Denavir topical)
- Pain-relieving pills and gels applied to the mouth, many of which are available over-the-counter (OTC)
- Sucking on ice or popsicles
What Are Symptoms of Herpes?
Some people with herpes never have any symptoms, or symptoms are very mild, and they may not even be aware they have the virus.
When symptoms of genital herpes occur, they may include:
- Blisters in the genital area
- In the vagina, penis, scrotum, anus, buttocks, or thighs
- Blisters may develop into painful open sores, which crust over as they heal
- Blisters on the mouth or lips
- Joint pain
- Difficulty urinating
Symptoms of oral herpes (cold sores) may include:
- Painful blisters on the lips, mouth, nose, or throat,
- Blisters eventually open and form scabs
- Mouth and throat pain
- Neck swelling
- Body aches
- General ill feeling (malaise)
How Is Herpes Diagnosed?
Both genital and oral herpes are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination. Herpes can often be diagnosed just by looking at the sores.
If you have blisters or sores a doctor can order tests to look for herpes:
- A sample of cells or fluid from a sore is sent to a lab
- If you don't have symptoms a blood sample may be taken to check for herpes antibodies
- A herpes blood test cannot determine who gave you the infection or how long you have been infected
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