The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes blisters and sores around the mouth, nose, genitals and buttocks, but can appear almost anywhere on the skin or mucous membranes. The predominant symptom of herpes is the outbreak of painful, itching blisters filled with fluid on and around the external sexual organs or, for oral herpes, on or very near the lip.
Many patients are able to anticipate an outbreak when they notice a warning sign (a tingling sensation, called a prodrome). Symptoms vaguely similar to those of flu may accompany these outbreaks. Painful urination and swollen and tender lymph glands in the groin are also possible.
Factors that can trigger an outbreak include stress, illness such as a cold, fever, fatigue, sunburn, menstruation or sexual intercourse. For patients with oral herpes and who have a history of cold sores, precaution should be taken when receiving certain cosmetic treatments. Laser treatments, dermal filler injections, and chemical peels can trigger an outbreak. The dermatology provider will prescribe an anti-viral treatment before or just following treatment to discourage any outbreak.
Herpes can be treated but not cured. The medication that will attack the virus while it lies dormant in the nerve cells will also damage the nerve cells. Treatment is available for acute outbreaks, which are anti-viral drugs such as Acyclovir, Valaclovir or Famcyclovir. Topical antiviral ointments also may be applied to prevent secondary bacterial infections.