Herpes – Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

If you have ever suffered from a cold sore, then you have been exposed to the herpes virus. The word herpes can be confusing to some, therefore, it is important to fully understand this virus, as well as the causes, symptoms and potential treatment options.

What is Herpes?

Herpes simplex is one of the most common and easily spread infection that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. Caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), this infection comes in various forms and can be caused by two different strains of the herpes simplex virus – HSV-1 and HSV-2.

When it comes to a sexually transmitted disease, many people assume that if they don’t feel or see any symptoms, they are clean and healthy. However, people can have some level of genital herpes if they are sexually active but it frequently shows no or very mild symptoms in an infected host. For this reason, it is important to get regular check-ups done, particularly if you are sexually active.

After you have contracted herpes, it can be very difficult to fully eliminate it, as it can stay dormant in the body for months or years. Under certain circumstances or based on key risk factors, it may reappear on the surface of the skin and manifest in symptoms again. Therefore, many treatment approaches to herpes involve addressing the symptoms, rather than the underlying virus.

Types of Herpes

As mentioned, there are two variations of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. The former is commonly associated with oral herpes and will cause cold sores and fever blisters, while the latter is more often linked to genital herpes.

Oral Herpes: Medically known as Herpes labialis, this variety primarily affects the lip. Oral herpes can be passed by sexual or non-sexual contact, such as kissing, or by sharing a cigarette/beverage. It is also very difficult to eliminate oral herpes completely, and this condition is often recurrent, as it will lay dormant in the nerve tissue of the lip. Over time, the flare-ups will decrease in frequency and severity.

Genital Herpes: This type of infection is found on the genitals of both men and women, and is most often passed by sexual contact. It is estimated that more than 1.1 billion people around the world have genital herpes, typically caused by HSV-2, but symptoms will manifest in a much smaller number of people. People may have genital herpes their whole life and never know, as symptoms may never appear.

Causes of Herpes

The cause of herpes is sexual contact with someone who has already been infected or who is a carrier for one of the two types of Herpes Simplex Virus. However, your risk of contracting herpes is greater based on your gender, sexual activity, bladder problems, previous sexually transmitted diseases and a weakened immune system.

Gender: Studies have shown that women are more likely to contract this infection than men, as this infection is easier to spread from men to women, rather than the other way around.

Sexual Activity: As a sexually transmitted disease, this infection is spread during sexual contact, and can be passed even if you are wearing a condom. The more sexually active you are, and the more partners you have, the higher your chances are of contracting this infection, both the oral and genital varieties.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: If you have a history of other sexually transmitted diseases, or are currently suffering from one, there is more likely to be an inflammation, irritation or broken skin, making it even easier for the herpes virus to take hold.

Immune System: If your immune system has been compromised for any reason, whether by another illness or an autoimmune disease, your chances of contracting the herpes virus is significantly higher.

Bladder Problems: If you are experiencing bladder problems of any kind, your urethra may be inflamed, providing an ideal situation where the infection can grow and spread without fear of it being flushed out by the body.

Symptoms of Herpes

Depending on which type of infection you contract, your symptoms may be somewhat different, and this is particularly true if you develop one of the more infrequent types, such as herpes gladiatorum, meningitis or esophagitis.

Oral Herpes: The initial symptoms may be accompanied by a burning or stinging pain in the area, along with a sore throat, stiff neck or enlarged lymph nodes. The flare-up of oral herpes appears as a small blister or sore on the lip and may last for up to 10 days. The blister could appear as much as 5-10 days after the initial exposure to the virus. Apart from these, there could also be small lesions on the cheek and gums.

Genital Herpes: The symptoms of genital herpes include pain or irritation on the genitals, along with small red bumps or tiny white blisters. Ulcers may subsequently form, which can crack or bleed, thus causing a scabbed-over area on the genitals that is unsightly and potentially painful.

Herpes Gladiatorum: This condition is known to affect the fingers but the symptoms can include a rash or an inflamed area on the chest, stomach, neck, legs, and face. Fever, sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes are also seen with this variety of the virus.

Meningitis: This serious infection of the brain is believed to begin with a reoccurring flare-up on the face, and then transmitted to the brain and its temporal lobe. This can cause inflammation of the brain and potentially lethal side effects; this is the deadliest variety of this infection.

Esophagitis: Upper gastrointestinal bleeding and painful swallowing are common symptoms of this herpes variety; Weight loss, fever, and persistent hiccups are the other symptoms that may indicate a herpes infection of the esophagus.

Treatments for Herpes

There are a number of trusted pharmaceutical treatments for herpes including topical antiviral creams and oral antiviral medications.

Antiviral Creams

Antiviral creams are particularly popular for oral herpes, such as the acyclovir ointment and penciclovir cream. These topical applications are considered more effective than oral antiviral medication, such as what is prescribed for genital herpes.

Oral Antiviral Medication

 In the case of genital herpes, it is important to take oral medication, as topical creams or ointments can often prevent airflow and promote a damp environment on the genitals, which can worsen the condition. Keeping the area dry and using antiviral medications like acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir is the best approach to the rapid treatment of herpes.

Home Remedies for Herpes

Using antiviral medication to neutralize the viral infection may be effective, but if you suffer continuous outbreaks or flare-ups, your body may become less responsive to the prescribed medication, which is why many people seek out more natural remedies.

Ranging from lifestyle changes to herbal supplements, some of the best home remedies for this infection include lowering stress levels, avoiding steroidal medications, reducing exposure to light, eliminating genital friction and eating a proper diet, along with the use of tea tree oil, aloe vera gel, manuka honey and oregano oil, among others.

Stress Levels

Eliminating stress is a known method of preventing herpes outbreaks; excess stress hormones have been directly linked to flare-ups of herpes, particularly the oral variety.

Steroids

If you regularly use steroidal medications, such as an inhaler for asthma, this can stimulate the growth and reoccurrence of the herpes virus. And if you suffer from chronic herpes infections, this could be the reason.

Tea Tree Oil

Known as one of the most powerful antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal substances on the planet, a few drops of tea tree oil diluted with water or in a carrier oil can help to speed the recovery process following an outbreak.

Light Exposure

Excessive UV radiation on the face or lips  can cause a flare-up of these symptoms, so if you spend a lot of time outside, using sunscreen or UV chapstick is essential.

Oregano Oil

The active ingredient in oregano oil, thymol, is known to have powerful antiviral effects on the body, so even a diluted amount placed on the site of oral or genital herpes can eliminate the infection or cause it to return to a dormant state.

Genital Friction

Restrictive clothing that promotes perspiration in the genitals or constantly rubs against the skin will increase the level of inflammation in that area, making it easier for the infection to reappear.

Dietary Changes

 If you are deficient in any key nutrients, it can compromise your body’s immune system functionality, leaving you vulnerable to infections and flare-ups of this common virus.

Aloe Vera

The anti-inflammatory power of this gel is well known, and it can eliminate much of the pain and discomfort associated with this infection, while also neutralizing the underlying viral infection.

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