Some people who develop an inflamed and painful skin rash may be concerned that it’s a herpes rash. To help you tell the difference, we’ll explore the physical appearance and symptoms of herpes in comparison to other common skin rashes.
If you have “wet looking” fluid-filled blisters in the vicinity of your mouth or genitals, chances are you’ve been infected with the herpes virus. When popped, the sores will crust over.
There are two types of herpes:
- HSV-1 (Herpes simplex virus type 1) causes sores (cold sores or fever blisters) around the mouth and lips.
- HSV-2 (Herpes simplex virus type 2) causes sores around the genitals.
Although many people with the herpes virus never experience noticeable symptoms, the most common symptoms include:
- fluid-filled blisters
- itching, burning skin before the sores appear
- flu-like symptoms
- discomfort while urinating
The symptoms of specific rashes are typically different from herpes, even though they might appear in similar areas of the body. Common conditions that may cause a skin rash include:
Dermatitis is a skin condition that causes red, itchy, flaky skin. There are two types of dermatitis: contact and atopic.
Contact dermatitis is a rash that appears after your skin touches an irritant, such as a perfume or chemical. You’ll notice a rash appear where you touched the irritant, and blisters may also possibly form. A rash after exposure to poison ivy is one example of contact dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is also known as eczema. It’s a rash that occurs after exposure to an allergen. Symptoms include thick, scaly, red patches of skin across the body.
Unlike herpes, dermatitis can occur anywhere on the body. Contact dermatitis will likely go away after exposure to the irritant has stopped and the skin is cleaned with a mild soap. Atopic dermatitis can be prevented by moisturizing the skin and avoiding triggers like hot showers and cold weather.
Shingles is a painful skin rash that is believed to be caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox — the varicella-zoster virus. Although shingles symptoms often include itching, fluid-filled blisters like herpes, the blisters usually appear in a band or in a small area on one side of a person’s face, neck, or body along with an angry rash.
- Treatment for shingles. There is no cure for shingles, but there are antiviral drugs such as Acyclovir (Zovirax) or Valacyclovir (Valtrex) that your doctor may prescribe to shorten healing time and reduce your risk for complications. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication such as the topical numbing agent, lidocaine.
Jock itch is a fungal infection that typically looks like a red rash with a few small blisters near the edge of the rash. Unlike herpes, these blisters typically do not crust over. Also, herpes blisters often appear on the penis, while the rash associated with jock itch typically appears on the inner thighs and groin, but not the penis.
- Treatment for jock itch. Jock itch is often treated with two to four weeks of washing with an antifungal shampoo and the application of a topical antifungal cream.
Scabies is a highly contagious skin infection caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite that burrows into your skin to lay eggs. While herpes is typically found in the mouth and genital area, scabies can be found anywhere on the body. A scabies infestation appears as redness or a rash, sometimes showing signs of small pimples, bumps, or blisters. Sores may appear when the area is scratched.
- Treatment for scabies. Your doctor will most likely prescribe a scabicide topical lotion or cream to kill the scabies mites and their eggs.
- Treatment for genital warts. Along with prescription topical medications, your doctor might suggest cryotherapy (freezing) or laser treatment to remove the warts. There is no cure for the human papillomavirus, so no treatment is guaranteed to remove the warts and keep them from coming back.
Shaving your pubic hair can often create skin irritation and ingrown hairs, resulting in red bumps that can be mistaken for herpes sores. Razor burn is an acne-like rash. Ingrown hairs look like pimples with a yellow center, while herpes sores look more like fluid-filled blisters with clear liquid.
- Treatment for razor burn. There are a number of ways people address razor burns, ranging from over-the-counter topical creams with hydrocortisone to home remedies such as the topical application of witch hazel or tea tree oil.
Some rashes should be treated by your doctor. Set up an appointment with your doctor if:
- you’re uncomfortable to the point where you’re losing sleep or having trouble focusing on your daily activities
- you think you have herpes or another sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- you think your skin is infected
- you’ve found self-care ineffective
If you have a rash that you think could be herpes, look closely and compare the physical appearances and symptoms of your rash with those of herpes and other common rashes. Whatever your observations, it’s wise to discuss your concerns with your doctor who will have treatment suggestions for all skin inflammations.