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what are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Herpes & Cold Sores

A Guide to Herpes Symptoms

By Lizzie De La Cruz

Herp Symptoms

One day, you wake up and it really burns when you pee. Then you notice there are weird sores down there, and you feel like a cold's coming on—it's natural to you wonder what's going on! After messaging your sexual partner, they tell you that they just got diagnosed with herpes HSV-2. You know about herpes, but what does this really mean? 
While it can be scary to think you have herpes, you don't have to go through the infection alone. Our doctors and the team at wisp are always available to talk with you about your symptoms and feelings. We want to help you understand what's going on and to let you know the herpes treatments available to you—and that everything is going to be okay!
Let's talk about what herpes is, the signs and symptoms of herpes and how to manage it so you can live a happy, healthy life.

What Is Herpes?

Herpes is a type of virus called herpes simplex. The two common viral strains of herpes are HSV-1 and HSV-2. If you've ever had an annoying cold sore on your mouth, that's from the HSV-1 virus strain. Genital herpes is caused by a different strain: HSV-2. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that a lot of sexually active people have, so it's pretty common.
One of the challenges with having herpes is that you may not know you have it until a few days or weeks after being exposed to it. During that time, you could give it to another sexual partner without even knowing it. That's one reason it's super important to always have protected sex with condoms and dental dams. It's also really important to get regular testing for STDs when you're sexually active.

How Do I Get Genital Herpes?

When you have unprotected sex, either oral or penetrative, and your sexual partner has the virus, they can give it to you. Once the herpes virus gets into your body through mucus membranes like your mouth and genitals, the virus travels along the nerve pathways in your body and incorporates into the various cells where it settles in and becomes dormant.
Now, don't worry! Just because the herpes virus is living in your body doesn't mean you're always going to have herp symptoms; it's just that you'll have to manage outbreaks with antiviral medicine. It's also important to always have protected sex and to have a talk with any sexual partners to let them know you've been exposed to herpes.
What Are the Visible Signs of Herpes?
Herpes is a tricky STD. Sometimes, you won't have any signs or symptoms of the virus. But, when you have an outbreak, you'll generally know it. Here are some of the signs that you can see that are common with a herpes infection:
  • Blistery sores. One of the tell-tale signs of herpes is open sores. What does a herpes sore look like? They usually look like a blister, and when they open up, they become quite painful. The herpes sore starts out as a white-like blister, then turns red and then scabs over. Herpes sores might be pretty scary to see, but it is a common sign. Just remember that after a while, the sores will scab over and eventually go away!
  • Vaginal discharge. Unusual discharge is also a common sign of herpes. While vaginal discharge can be a sign of something else, if it's accompanied by the sores, it's probably from herpes.

Other Herpes Signs

  • Itching around your lady parts. You'll generally also experience intense itching around your vagina, vulva and buttocks along with the burning and blistery sores.
  • Burning when you pee. When you have to pee and there's a painful, burning sensation, check yourself down there with a mirror and see if you see any open sores.

What Are the Physical Symptoms of Herpes?

One of the crazy things about herpes is that you can also get symptoms that you wouldn't expect. Here are some examples of what HSV-2 outbreak symptoms feel like:
  • Flu-like symptoms. You may feel achy, have a fever, headache, chills and just generally feel funky.
  • Swollen lymph glands. The lymph nodes or glands help the body to fight inflammation and infection. When they are actively fighting off the herpes virus, the lymph glands try to trap as many of the virus particles as they can, and they fill with fluid. If you feel your lymph nodes along the underside of the jaw, armpits or around your groin and they feel hard and swollen, it's a sign of an infection.
  • Tingling and burning sensation. This is a common symptom during the beginning of a herpes outbreak. You'll notice this weird tingling feeling around your genitals and along your legs. This is the virus that lives in the nerves waking up and sending a pins-and-needles kind of feeling. Taking antivirals early can prevent the outbreak from progressing.

How Do I Treat Herpes?

Well, the kicker here is that you can't cure herpes. It's a stubborn virus that lives with you. The good news is that after your initial outbreak with herpes blisters and flu-like symptoms, you may avoid future outbreaks by keeping antiviral herpes medication on hand. Over time, the virus just goes to sleep and becomes dormant in your body. Don't be scared of this! With a balanced lifestyle and taking antiviral medications, you can live a full and healthy life.
In order to get the medications you'll need, take our private Symptoms Quiz and a wisp doctor will review your case. During the 2 minute consultation, we'll ask specific questions about your signs and symptoms and prescribe the proper genital herpes medicine to help you manage the virus. You can pick up your medicine at the local pharmacy, or we can ship it directly to your home in discreet packaging so no one in the house will know you're taking medication.

What Can I Do at Home To Feel Better?

  • Bathe in warm, lightly salted water. The warm water helps to soothe open sores.
  • Put a gentle, natural lotion on the open sores. Be sure to put just a little bit on one first to see if it feels better.
  • Wear loose cotton underwear and clothing. You want to make sure your genital area can breathe.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. One of the best ways to fight off any infection, including an outbreak of herpes, is with a strong immune system. Eat a balanced diet, exercise and stay hydrated.
Herpes is super common, and a lot of sexually active people have it. It's easy to prevent, and it's easy to manage. Take your medicine, live a balanced lifestyle and enjoy a happy, healthy and symptom-free life.

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