What do herpes sores look like? How do you know whether you have herpes? Find out which symptoms herpes causes and how to spot the first signs.
What are early symptoms of genital herpes?
The first symptom of genital herpes that you are likely to notice is the inflammation of your skin in the genital area, which may burn or itch. This symptom often occurs within 1-2 weeks of infection, during which time the virus multiplies in your cells and causes an outbreak. As the herpes episode progresses, blisters and ulcers develop. When the symptoms begin to subside, the ulcers form scabs, then they gradually disappear.
Typical Symptoms during the early stages include:
- Fever and flu-like symptoms
- Burning or itching sensation in the genital area
- Pain during urination
- Feeling sick/nauseous
- Muscle aches and pains
However, the incubation period of genital herpes varies and some people do not experience the first herpes outbreak until months or even years after infection. When it occurs, the first outbreak may last for several weeks. Once the genital herpes symptoms have subsided, the virus becomes dormant again until something triggers a new outbreak. Recurrent outbreaks tend to be less severe and pass quicker. Usually, patients learn to recognise the early signs of a herpes episode, which allows them to begin antiviral treatment promptly.
What does herpes look like?
Genital herpes sores develop in several stages. When you notice the first symptoms such as tingling and itching you may not be able to see any sores. Over the course of the coming days, blisters will form. The blisters tend to be red at first and they soon fill with liquid and can take a yellow colour. Eventually, the blisters burst open and heal.
Can herpes cause just one sore?
Genital herpes outbreaks can differ in severity. While some people encounter multiple painful blisters, some only have one single sore. It is not uncommon for the symptoms to be so mild that they go unnoticed.
Where can you get herpes sores?
The symptoms of genital herpes in women are essentially the same as in men. Because genital herpes affects the private parts, people often wrongly assume that the virus looks different in men and women.
In men, genital herpes sores can appear inside or on the:
- groin and thighs
- around the anus
In women, the herpes blisters or sores can appear on the:
- inside the vagina
- groin, thighs
- on the buttocks and around the anus
In the case of female genital herpes, patients often experience pain when urinating and notice unusual vaginal discharge. Blisters inside the vagina can take up to three weeks to heal completely. An inflammation of the cervix (neck of the womb) can also be a sign of female genital herpes. If you are infected with herpes at a late stage during pregnancy, consult a doctor or midwife.
Genital herpes is not only transmitted during vaginal and anal intercourse. It also is possible to get genital herpes in the mouth, tongue, lips and other parts of the body. However, this is quite rare and it usually occurs when blisters are present during intercourse.
How long does a herpes outbreak last?
The duration of a herpes outbreak depends on how quickly your body can fight the outbreak and whether you take antiviral medication to speed up recovery.
As a general rule, the first ever herpes outbreak tends to be the most severe. In some cases, it can take 2 - 3 weeks to heal completely. Subsequent outbreaks are usually less severe and pass within a few days.
Herpes sores typically develop in the following stages:
- tingling or itching sensation in the affected area - this usually happens in the first 12 - 24 hours
- blisters form and fill with liquid
- blisters open and turn into sores
- ulcers turn into scabs and heal
How can I manage the symptoms?
In addition to taking antiviral tablets you can alleviate symptoms by trying the following:
- Keep the area clean to avoid infection. You can use water or salt water to wash the affected area.
- You can use an ice pack wrapped in a towel to reduce pain and soothe your skin.
- Drink plenty of fluids - this will dilute your urine and make passing urine less painful.
- Avoid tight clothing as it may irritate the blisters and sores further.
Herpes outbreaks - how often do the symptoms recur?
Some people have only one or less herpes outbreaks a year while others suffer numerous episodes. On average, the number of outbreaks and the symptoms they cause also depends on the type of herpes virus you are infected with. People with herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1 or herpes type 1) - which is more common in herpes outbreaks above the waist (for example cold sores) – causes less frequent attacks and less severe symptoms than herpes simplex 2 (HSV2) which causes genital herpes.
Recurrent outbreaks tend to be less severe than the first. They usually don't take as long as the first outbreak to resolve and you are likely to have a smaller number of blisters.
How can I prevent herpes outbreaks?
A healthy immune system tends to keep the virus at bay, so living healthily and eating a balanced diet may help to prevent recurring outbreaks.
Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption is thought to reduce the chance of outbreaks. Some patients find that stress increases their risk of a herpes episode. In some cases, sunburn has also been found to be a possible trigger. However, no one really knows what triggers herpes outbreaks.
You should try to find out what triggers the virus’s activity for you, so that you have a better chance at preventing future episodes.
When you feel an outbreak coming on you can start taking aciclovir tablets straight away in order to keep the symptoms to a minimum.
What are the symptoms of anal herpes?
Genital herpes sore can appear on your anus, especially if the virus is transmitted during anal sex. You may notice red bumps or blisters around your anus. Anal herpes can also cause pain, discharge and constipation.
Is herpes itchy?
During beginning stages of a herpes outbreak, you may experience a tingling, itching or burning sensation. As the episode progresses and blisters form the itching sensation tends to stop and the blisters tend to be painful rather than itchy.
I have herpes symptoms. Does that mean I can pass the virus on?
Genital herpes symptoms differ between patients. While some people develop the blisters within a week of infection, others do not experience any symptoms. The most common early sign of a herpes outbreak is a burning or itching sensation on or near to the genitals.
Some people carry the herpes virus without developing any symptoms of it. This makes it easy to pass on to others. The virus is particularly contagious when herpes symptoms are showing, from the point that blisters form to the time the scabs heal off completely. You are most likely to transmit the virus to a sexual partner at the end and the beginning of each herpes episode, but you can pass it on even if you don’t have symptoms.
I have herpes symptoms - What should I do?
1. Get diagnosed
Sores or bumps on your genitals can be caused by a range of conditions. You need to see a doctor or you can use our online photo diagnosis to get diagnosed. If you have sores you can use a swab test for herpes.
2. Get treated
Antiviral medication helps your body fight the herpes virus and speeds up recovery. You can get your treatment from your GP or order online from Superdrug Online Doctor.
3. Prevent further outbreaks
Living healthily and avoiding stress are believed to help reduce the risk of recurrent outbreaks. You may also notice that certain things trigger outbreaks, which will help you avoid symptoms in the future. If you suffer from 6 or more outbreaks in a year you may wish to consider suppressive treatment.