To understand herpes outbreak symptoms in men and women, it is important to first understand the how the virus can be contracted. There are two types of the Herpes Simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV2.
- HSV-1 is transmitted through oral contact and results in cold sores around or in the mouth.
- HSV-2 is transmitted through sexual contact (or shared sexual toys) and results in symptoms like painful blisters and sores that affects the genital region.
- HSV-1 may lead to genital herpes if the virus comes in contact with the genital area (i.e. oral-genital contact during oral sex).
A herpes infection does not always produce symptoms or may only show up with mild symptoms. Because of this, as much as 25 % of the people infected with the herpes infection are ignorant about their condition or may not recognize the symptoms. This ignorance about the infection as well as the lack of symptoms increase the risk of individuals transmitting the virus to their sexual partners unknowingly.
Primary Herpes Outbreak Symptoms
If an individual is infected with herpes and symptoms do show up, the first outbreak will typically occur 1 to 2 weeks after exposure to the virus. Prior to an outbreak, individuals may also experience prodromal symptoms such as an itching sensation beneath the skin or redness of the skin. Additional symptoms of an infection outbreak also include:
- Flu-like symptoms or fever
- Reduced appetite
- Itching, burning, or discomfort in the affected area
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes around the genital area or neck
- Feeling of pressure in the area below the stomach (for genital herpes)
- Painful urination (for genital herpes)
- Vaginal or penile discharge (for genital herpes)
Finally, groups of small red bumps develop around the affected area into fluid-filled blisters (vesicles).
- For oral herpes, these lesions will show up on the mouth, gums, lips and tongue.
- For genital herpes in women, these blisters will occur around the thigh, vulva, inside the vagina, anus or buttock area.
- In men, the outbreak symptoms will show up on the penis, scrotum, on the thighs, around the anus or buttocks.
Eventually, these blisters will rupture as open sores or shallow ulcers that will be painful to touch. Over the next 1 to 2 weeks, the ulcers will become crusted and begin to heal without any scarring.
Women may also experience pain or difficulty urinating, and foul smelling discharge if herpes blisters are present inside the vagina. In some cases, women who contract genital herpes can suffer from cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix), urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) or meningitis (inflammation of the fluid surrounding the brain).
The severity of a herpes outbreak is at its worst and most painful during the first outbreak. Women also tend to experience more health complications than men during the first herpes outbreak.
Once infected with the herpes virus, the virus stays dormant in the skin and can become “reactivated” – triggering recurrent outbreaks from time to time. Currently, there are no available cures or medications to kill the virus completely.
Typically, infected individuals can expect a couple of outbreaks to recur per year, especially during the first year after the primary outbreak. Over time, recurrent outbreaks decrease in frequency, become much milder and do not last as long as the primary outbreak.
Potential Recurrent Outbreak Triggers
Medical experts do not yet have any concrete medical evidences on what may cause the virus to become “active” again but infected individuals believed that recurrent outbreaks can be triggered by:
- A weaken immune system
- Bodily injury
- Illness or infections
- Surgical trauma
- Emotional or physical stress
- Unhealthy diet
- Poor lifestyle habits
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light
Women are more vulnerable than men to experience more recurrent outbreaks due to additional factors such as menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
How To Treat And Relieve Active Herpes Outbreaks
The first primary outbreak of herpes symptoms is usually the most severe and prescription antiviral medication is usually needed to provide relief for the pain and discomfort as well as to accelerate the healing of the ulcers and sores. Common antiviral medicines for the treatment of primary and recurrent herpes outbreaks include Acyclovir (Zovirax), Valacyclovir (Valtrex) and Famiciclovir (Famvir).
For patients suffering from oral herpes (HSV-1), a topical acyclovir or penciclovir (Denavir) may be prescribed to relieve the discomfort associated with oral blisters.
Note: Antiviral drugs can only temporary stop the viral replication of the virus and speed up the healing but do not eradicate the HSV virus in the body nor can it prevent the frequency or severity of future outbreaks.
In some cases, non-prescription drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil) may also be use to help treat the symptoms of fever, muscle aches and pain caused by the infection.
For individuals who are experiencing recurrent outbreaks and do not want to take antiviral drugs, there are also over-the-counter creams such as Dynamiclear that can be used to significantly reduce pain and decrease the length of time of recurrent episodes.
Further steps that one can do at home to manage and promote the healing of active herpes sores includes:
- Keeping the infected area dry and clean and avoiding contact with the sores
- Drinking more water to prevent dehydration and flush out bad toxins
- Wearing cotton underwear and loose fitting clothing to prevent tight contact with the lesions
- Taking sitz baths for symptomatic (pain) relief
How to Prevent Recurrent Herpes Outbreaks
Nobody exactly knows what are the causes that may trigger a HSV outbreak but some medical experts believe factors like a weak immune system, stress, menstrual periods and bodily injuries are possible reasons that can increase the chances of a recurrences of herpes outbreaks.
For patients with chronic herpes outbreaks (more than 6 outbreaks per year), most doctors will recommend a daily low dose of the antiviral medicines as a form of suppressive therapy. With suppressive therapy, the frequency of herpes recurrences can be reduce by as much as 70% to 80% per year. Ongoing suppressive therapy also has the added benefit of reducing the probability of transmission to an uninfected sex partner.
Other than suppressive therapy of antiviral medications, infected individuals who are looking for a more natural approach to prevent or minimize the recurrences of future herpes simplex outbreaks can also go for supplements or diets high in lysine, zinc, vitamins A and C.
Lysine has been founded by researchers that it can help block arginine, an amino acid in the body that is linked with herpes outbreaks. So having a diet high is lysine and low in arginine can inhibit the reproduction of the herpes virus and reduce the recurrences of HSV outbreaks. Good food sources that are rich in lysine include fish, chicken, vegetables and beans. Avoid foods like dairy, chocolate, raisins, nuts, seeds, corn and whole-wheat products that are high in arginine that can promote the recurrence of outbreaks.
In laboratory tests, zinc has been shown effective in boosting the body immune system against viral infections such as HSV-1 and HSV-2. As well as optimizing the body’s resistance, zinc also assists with the healing of wounds and scars. To prevent outbreaks, go for foods that are high in zinc content such as dairy products, legumes and most sea foods.
Since a weak immune system has been linked with the “reactivation” of herpes symptoms, taking supplements or foods high in vitamin A and C can improve the immune system to fight the viruses. Foods that are high in Vitamin A and C include fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit, guava, mango, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, Swiss chard and bell peppers.
In addition to good dietary diets, getting plenty of sleep and relieving stress through mediation, breath exercise or even self hypnosis can help to decrease the frequency of herpes outbreaks.