Herpes sores can affect many areas of the body, including the mouth, genitals, and eyes. Herpes sores look like blisters filled with fluid, which can break open a crust before healing.

Herpes is usually a mild condition that causes small sores to appear on the skin. People develop herpes after exposure to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of this virus:

  • herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), or oral herpes, which usually affects the mouth
  • herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), or genital herpes, which generally affects the genitals

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can occur on the face or the genitals. People can encounter both herpes viruses through bodily fluids, including genital fluids and saliva.

Once someone has the virus, the symptoms can flare up from time to time for the rest of their life. While the sores can be uncomfortable and even painful, they are not usually dangerous for otherwise healthy adults.

This article will explain what herpes is, how people get it, and what herpes looks like with pictures.

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Most people with HSV are asymptomatic, meaning they will not experience any symptoms. Others will notice sores or lesions. These sores look like blisters filled with fluid. Over a few days, the sores break open, ooze, and form a crust before healing.

People may also notice a tingling, itching, or burning feeling a few days before the sores appear.

When experiencing herpes symptoms for the first time, some people may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as:

When people contract the herpes virus, they may have their first sores, also known as an initial outbreak, 4 – 12 days later. The blisters can take between 2 – 4 weeks to heal

An outbreak may involve a single sore or a cluster of sores. They often affect the skin around the mouth, the genitals, or the rectum.

The symptoms will usually reappear occasionally, though they do not tend to be as severe as the first time. Symptoms from recurrent episodes typically heal within 7–10 days.

The following sections discuss the symptoms of herpes that arise in commonly affected body parts.

In oral herpes, most blisters appear on the lips or mouth. They can also form elsewhere on the face, especially around the chin and below the nose or on the tongue.

At first, the sores look similar to small bumps or pimples before developing into fluid-filled blisters. These may be red, yellow, or white. Once they burst, a clear or yellow liquid may run out before the blister develops a yellow crust and heals.

People with oral herpes may experience swollen lymph nodes in the neck during an outbreak.

Some people with genital herpes may develop sores on the vulva, which is the external part of the genitals that includes the outer lips (labia) or inside the vagina. It may be difficult to see sores that develop inside the vagina.

Genital sores vary in size and number, but as with oral herpes, they look like pimples or blisters filled with fluid. They may burst and develop a yellowy crust as they heal.

Genital herpes can cause pain with urination and, often with the first outbreak, swollen lymph nodes in the groin.

Genital herpes may also develop sores on and around the penis. Small pimples develop into larger, fluid-filled sores that may be red, white, or yellow. Like other forms of herpes, these sores tend to burst before crusting over.

Herpes sores can also develop as blisters on the buttocks, around the rectum, or around the anus.

Certain patients can develop anal pain, bleeding, and difficulty with bowel movements.

Herpes blisters can also develop on the fingers. This is called herpetic whitlow and is most common in children who suck their thumb.

Herpes can cause one or more sores to develop around the fingernail. A person will often experience pain or a tingling sensation in the area before the sore develops.

If multiple sores appear, they tend to join up and become one large, honeycomb-like blister within a week. They may also spread to the nail bed.

Herpes keratitis refers to a herpes infection in the eye. It may affect one or both eyes and causes:

  • eye pain
  • sensitivity to light
  • discharge from the eye

Anyone who suspects herpes keratitis should see a doctor. Without treatment, the infection can scar the eye, leading to cloudy vision or even vision loss.

Below are frequently asked questions relating to herpes.

How does someone know exactly if they have herpes?

A healthcare professional can diagnose someone with herpes and rule out any other health conditions. People should speak with a doctor if they notice symptoms, such as sores around the mouth or genitals.

What bumps can be mistaken for herpes?

People may mistake several conditions and occurrences for herpes, including:

  • shaving rash
  • ingrown hairs
  • other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • allergic reactions
  • pimples
  • hemorrhoids

What does a herpes rash look and feel like?

An initial herpes rash typically presents as a patch of discolored, inflamed skin with blisters. This may be red or pink on light skin tones or purple, brown, or darker than the surrounding area on darker skin tones.

Herpes typically feels painful, which can distinguish it from other STIs. People may also notice tingling, burning, or itching before the sores appear.

Herpes is usually a mild skin condition caused by the herpes simplex virus. It causes blister-like sores to appear anywhere on the body. The most commonly affected areas include around the mouth, the genitals, and the buttocks.

There is no cure for HSV, and people who have contracted the virus will usually experience breakouts from time to time. The sores usually clear up on their own, though people can help treat outbreaks using antiviral medicine, such as:

  • acyclovir
  • famciclovir
  • valacyclovir

These treatments, which are available as creams or pills, can shorten the duration of a herpes outbreak.

To avoid transmitting herpes to other people, avoid skin-to-skin contact during flare-ups of symptoms, especially when the sores are open.

When a person has genital herpes, they can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus by using a condom between outbreaks. People with oral herpes can reduce the risk of transmission by avoiding kissing, sharing tableware, or performing oral sex during an outbreak.