Herpes is a deceptive ailment. Once contracted, this viral infection sticks around forever, but it doesn’t always make itself known. Instead, the herpes virus may lie dormant for years before flaring up again, or it might lurk in the shadows indefinitely. So, herpes is really only a problem when it decides to rear its ugly head. When it does, though, the symptoms can range from mildly irritating to downright painful or worse.
Cold sores aren’t the only symptom of the herpes virus, but they’re one of the most common. While these sores are often not dangerous or life-threatening, they can have a major impact on one’s self-esteem. Fortunately, most cold sores go away on their own within a week or two. But taking proper care of the skin affected by these blisters can help speed up the healing process. Here we’ll go over what you can do to treat cold sores as well as other herpes symptoms.
A virus known as herpes simplex (HSV) is responsible for causing herpes. Herpes simplex viruses come in two types, classified as HSV-1 and HSV-2. The first type refers to oral herpes, which is spread by saliva or other oral secretions and sores. HSV-2 is commonly called genital herpes and is spread via sexual contact.
Most conversations about herpes revolve around HSV-2. However, oral herpes (HSV-1) is much more prevalent, affecting over half of the U.S. population. (It’s worth noting that HSV-1 can also lead to sores and blisters near the genitals.)
Most herpes symptoms include visible blisters on specific areas of the skin. For instance, HSV-1 typically presents as cold sores, which are blister-like outbreaks near the lips and mouth that sometimes spread to the nose and other parts of the face. HSV-2, on the other hand, often leads to blisters or ulcerations either on external genitalia, inside the vagina, on the cervix, or near the rectum.
These aren’t the only symptoms brought forth by herpes, though. Additional herpes symptoms include:
Because there is no cure for the herpes simplex virus, these symptoms can only be treated.
Fortunately, there are many ways to treat cold sores and other herpes symptoms. The effectiveness of these treatments will vary from person to person depending on their age, overall health, genetics, and the severity of the outbreak.
The first step in alleviating the discomfort caused by cold sores is to avoid actions that might aggravate the sores further. For instance, you should temporarily avoid eating food with high levels of acidity, salt, or spice, as these can increase inflammation and pain. Also, make sure to not touch or pick at blisters.
Next, you should seek methods and medications to reduce swelling and pain. Applying an ice compress to the sores multiple times a day can achieve both of these things. Additionally, try taking over-the-counter medications, creams, and gels containing menthol and other numbing properties. Common painkillers like ibuprofen can also provide relief.
More severe cold sores may require prescription-strength herpes treatments. In this case, your doctor might recommend antiviral oral drugs such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or valacyclovir (Valtrex) to suppress the symptoms, as well as numbing gels to lower pain levels. The antiviral drugs mentioned above are also effective against other herpes symptoms, since they go after the virus directly. To alleviate pain associated with genital sores, it may also help to take warm baths, avoid tight-fitting clothing, apply ice to blisters, and take pain medication.
No matter how frequently it acts up or how it presents itself, herpes can be a real pain – literally. Taking good care of your skin and overall health can help prevent or mitigate these outbreaks. The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners can help patients find the right treatments for their skin flare-ups, whether caused by herpes or a different skin condition. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.