Before determining how to treat a case of skin herpes, the type of herpes virus causing the outbreak must first be determined by a doctor during an examination. Skin herpes is an inflammation of the skin and mucous membranes that is characterized by groupings of small blisters caused by a herpes virus. Herpes outbreaks can appear virtually anywhere on the body and can be caused by the herpes simplex 1 (HSV1), the herpes simplex 2 (HSV2), or the varicella-zoster virus, which causes herpes zoster, or shingles. All three viruses can cause small itchy blisters. There is no cure for any of them, but they can be effectively treated with anti-viral medications.
Varicella-zoster is the virus that causes chicken pox. After the initial symptoms go away, the virus usually becomes dormant but can reappear later in life, in some people, as shingles. It is not known why some people develop shingles and others do not. The patient may experience flu-like symptoms and can develop an itchy rash that may later turn into small blisters. If someone has shingles, he cannot spread it to other people unless he comes into contact with someone who has never had chicken pox. Should this be the case, the infection will initially appear as chicken pox.
Patients with shingles can be treated with antiviral medications that will help alleviate the symptoms and shorten the duration of the outbreak. Over-the-counter pain medications can be used to control discomfort. There is a shingles vaccine, which can be given to individuals over 60 years of age when the disease is most likely to surface. The vaccine helps prevent the virus from becoming reactivated.
Skin herpes can also is usually caused by HSV1 and HSV2. HSV1 typically causes lesions to appear on the lips or around the mouth area, but it can also affect the hands, face, and trunk of the body. HSV2 is spread through sexual contact and tends to affect mainly male and female genital areas. Both viruses, however, can affect other body parts. For instance, HSV1 can be transmitted through oral contact to the genitals and vice versa.
Just like cases of skin herpes caused by varicella-zoster, antiviral medications, in oral or topical cream form, can help reduce the duration of an outbreak. Oral medications can be taken at the start of an outbreak, or daily as suppression therapy. This entails taking antiviral medications each day to suppress any viral activity from occurring, thereby reducing or preventing outbreaks.
During an outbreak of skin herpes, patients should keep the affected area clean and dry. It is best to avoid touching the site of the infection to prevent spreading the virus to other body parts. As with shingles, pain killers can be taken to help control discomfort. If the outbreak is on an area normally covered by clothes, like the genital area, then it is best to wear loose clothing that allows air circulation. Cotton fabric is also recommended.
Understanding what may trigger an outbreak can prevent and help treat a case of skin herpes. For example, stress and hormone fluctuations can trigger an outbreak. Protecting the skin from over-exposure to the sun, wind, and cold may not only help prevent blisters from appearing, but can also help treat existing ones.