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Herpes is a condition where the body is infected with the herpes simplex virus. When someone ‘has’ herpes, they can be infected with either herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) or HSV2. Herpes simplex virus 1 manifests itself as sores or blisters on or around the lips, on the chin and in some cases on the nose, tongue and around the eyes. Herpes simplex virus 2 is commonly refered to as genital herpes. In rare cases, HSV1 can infect the genital area. For this article, we will discuss HSV1 and its common blister manifestations on the facial area – for more information on genital herpes or HSV2, please read this article on genital herpes.
It is important to understand that HSV1 is very common. It is estimated that over 80% of all adults in the United States has contracted HSV. A much smaller percentage actually shows symptoms – a person can be infected with HSV1 and never get one blister or ‘cold sore’ as they are commonly called.

When HSV1 is contracted, the virus itself lives under skin, in a dormant state, residing in the nerve cells. Certain ‘triggers’ (discussed later) can cause the virus to manifest on the skin as a blister. The purpose of this is for the virus to replicate – this is commonly called ‘shedding’. When a blister is present, the chances of spreading the virus to another person is at it’s greatest. Eventually, the blister goes away and the virus retreats back to the nerve cells where it moves back to a ‘resting’ or dormant state until it is triggered for replication again.

How can you contract Herpes?

Contracting HSV1 is much easier than many people think. The herpes virus has evolved to spread quickly and easily through the human population. Direct contact is the easiest way to contract herpes. Indirect contact can also spread the virus; for example, if a person with herpes touches their blister and then touches another person, the virus can easily spread. Probably the most effective way for the virus to spread however, is through fomites. Like other viruses such as warts and molluscum contagiosum, it can live on inanimate objects for a short amount of time. When someone else touches the object, they can be infected with the virus. This is why children commonly spread herpes – one child uses a towel or a utensil and then another child comes along and uses it. Children also play and touch eachother a lot, making the spread of HSV1 almost inevitable. As with most viruses, if the contact is made where there is a wound or the skin is broken, the chances of contracting the virus is much greater. It is important to understand that HSV1 can be contracted from someone who is not showing symptoms.

Herpes Symptoms

As mentioned, having herpes may not lead to any symptoms at all. For those who do show symptoms, they are all follow a basic cycle. First, there is a tingling or itchiness on the area where the blister will eventually erupt. Many people with recurring symptoms are very aware when they are about to get a blister and treatment measures immediately (see treatments below). A few hours or days after the tingling starts, the area will become reddish in color and more sensitive. Again, after a few hours or even days, the red area will manifest into a blister – filled with a clear liquid. At this point the area becomes painful and can be very irritating. Finally, again after a few hours or a few days, the blister starts to scab over. Eventually, the scab disappears, leaving a reddish area which in almost all cases, will return to normal with no permanent scars or discoloration.

These blisters most commonly appear on or around the lips, but can also manifest on the cheeks, chin, nose and eyes. If the blister is irritated, it may spread to form other blisters or may coalesce into one large blister. In extreme cases, the blisters may spread into the eye area causing other complications. For most people, herpes symptoms consist of recurring blisters on the lips that do not spread and are gone from between 3-14 days.
If you believe you have herpes there are many treatment methods available, although there is no ‘cure’ for herpes. If you are unsure if you have HSV1 or something else, it is best to consult with a physician or dermatologist.

Herpes Triggers

Research has shown that there are certain triggers that may cause herpes blisters. Research is still not definitive, but tests have shown that the following triggers will help a cold sore recur more frequently. Some common triggers are:

Sun Exposure: Exposure to the sun has been shown to cause a higher frequency of cold sores. Many people who live with HSV1 use UV protectant lip balm when they go out in the sun. There is some data to suggest that UV is not the sole cause of the trigger, however using UV protectant lip balm is perfectly safe and protects your skin.

Stress: Medical scientists now know that stress can cause myriad illnesses and can lower the immune system. People with HSV1 report a much higher percentage of breakouts during a time of high stress. Children who have HSV1 will often get a cold sore during times of stress such as a family move or around ‘report card’ time.

Lowered Immune System: Breakouts seem to be directly related to the lowering of the immune system, and, as a result, when a person is ill they seem to have a much higher chance of suffering from a breakout. People with immunodeficiency diseases may get multiple breakouts with very little latency between them.

Herpes Treatment

There are many different treatment methods for herpes breakouts. Some are more successful than others but usually depend on the individual. Prescription methods of treatment are now being replaced by natural treatments. Here are some examples of the various treatment options.

Antiviral medication: prescription antiviral medication has been used for multiple viral infections, and was the predominant medication type in the late 20th century. The problem with antiviral medication is possible side effects and disputes among medical researchers on their efficacy. Examples of antiviral medication for herpes is valiciclovir, famciclovir and peniclovir. These antiviral prescriptions are viral inhibitors or suppressors – they do not cure herpes but minimize the frequency and magnitude of outbreaks.

Topical HerpesTreatments: aside from oral medication, there are a number of topical treatments that can be used for herpes outbreaks. Docosonal is a chemical that bars HSV from passing from the nerve cells to the skin cells. Docosonal, sold as Abreva, claims to reduce recovery time by one half if used immediately when an outbreak is noticed. Although docosonal has been shown to be somewhat beneficial in reducing healing time, class action lawsuits have been filed refuting this claim.

Lysine: Lysine is an essential amino acid. The use of Lysine in treating herpes outbreaks was discovered at the end of the 20th century. Studies do show that taking Lysine orally, everyday, can reduce the frequency of cold sores. Further, lip balms or topical medication has been shown in some studies to reduce the healing time of an outbreak.

Natural HerpesTreatment: As with many other skin disorders, natural treatment is becoming very popular as a viable and effective treatment option. Free of steroids and side effects, natural treatments, when used correctly, are now showing exceptional results for reducing outbreak frequency and duration. Indeed, clinical studies show that many natural treatments show higher efficacy than prescription or synthetic drugs. Best of all, natural treatments are always safe and cause no side effects.

Herpes Prevention

There is no easy way to prevent herpes. Many who are infected with herpes never show symptoms. To prevent yourself or your child from contracting HSV1, here are a few measures that can be taken:

1. Do not share, or let your child share, towels or linens.
2. Do not share, or let your child share, utensil or any inanimate objects that will be in contact with the face or mouth area.
3. Wash hands frequently (this is just good sense) and have your child follow the same routine.

4. If you have herpes, avoid touching any open wounds on another person.
If you have herpes, there is no reason to panic. As mentioned, millions of people in the United States alone have herpes. Learn to notice when an outbreak is imminent and deal with it accordingly and quickly. Try to alleviate stress and always wear sun block when out in the sun. Living with herpes and using natural aids to combat the virus is not difficult and can easily be incorporated into your daily routine.

American Academy of Dermatology:

International Herpes Management Forum and Journal:

Herpes Organization:

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