The pain and discomfort of herpes is always worst in the period of adjustment shortly after the contraction of a primary infection and, if you develop the recurrent form, during the first few recurrent outbreaks. This chapter is aimed at helping you through any discomforts you may have now while at the same time providing you with easy-to-apply comfort measures that you can develop into a set of habits for the future. While you want relief immediately, also keep in mind that you are working on an adjustment process so that herpes will become less and less disrupting or uncomfortable in the future.
For most people, the discomfort of herpes is more an annoying or disturbing set of sensations than sharp and acute pain, although it can be severe enough to keep some people home, interfering with work and social life.
Conquering herpes is a question of adjustment between you and the virus over time. It should not have to be a long time, unless there is a specific physical complication or immunological deﬁciency, neither of which is a factor in the vast majority of herpes infections. I have dealt with literally hundreds of people who have spent the better part of two years or more wrestling with the adjustment process when for almost everyone it can be accomplished in several months with the right information, therapeutic counseling, and proper action on the person’s part.
The secret is to take good care of yourself, both physically and mentally, and to do everything possible to go on living your life as fully as ever—and that’s really no secret. Alleviating the physical discomfort is the first step. The discomfort can occur for several reasons. Everyone’s experience is not the same. You will learn to identify your particular needs and what can be done about them.
The activity of the virus in the nerve cells before and during an outbreak will often cause dull uncomfortable aches in the general area. For example, some genital herpes sufferers have what feels like a strained muscle in one leg that is hard to locate specifically or tenderness in part or all of the groin.
Disruptions in surface cells as they are invaded and killed by virus and/or body defenses will cause tenderness and sensitivity in that tissue. General inﬂammation and hotness, sometimes described as a feeling of having the ﬂu in part of the pelvic area, can also occur.
In some women, because of the location of the rash stinging or burning will occur when urine runs over it. Stinging, burning or sensitivity when urinating or defecating may also be experienced by both men and women from generalized inflammation and tenderness.
Since there is an active ﬁght taking place between your body and the virus, there may be the general body malaise which accompanies other infections. The last thing to understand is also that anxiety and worry can increase the experience of physical pain and discomfort directly!
Soothing the Pain
If the pain is severe, your physician may prescribe a short-term course of analgesics. This is usually only necessary in primary cases. In normal cases, prescription painkillers such as codeine or Demerol are not a good idea, since they often cause side effects (constipation or urinary retention), which in turn will increase the discomfort. Nausea and sedation may also occur. Except in extremely severe cases, you are working against yourself by using strong narcotic analgesics. If necessary, two aspirins every three hours will be helpful. Use Tylenol if you cannot tolerate aspirin. But don’t be foolish. Consult your physician before trying anything.
- Here are some easy ways to soothe the discomfort of genital herpes. Use what is most effective and easy to apply for you:
- Hold hot compresses on the rash area for a few minutes several times a day. Please, not so hot that you damage your skin.
- Using an ice pack also will be soothing and cooling for most people.
- Soothe by bathing, either in plain body temperature water or with Burows or Epsom salts added, which also will help dry the rash and keep the area clean. Do not overdo bathing to the point of causing skin disruptions, which may help the virus spread. Instead, take a short, soothing bath and then gently dry the area. By all means go swimming. You’ll not infect somebody by swimming in a pool. Just remove your wet bathing suit when you are ﬁnished and make sure you dry the infected area well. Some people ﬁnd that using a hair dryer helps—not too hot and not too close.
- Dab with plain alcohol if the rash is external. This will relieve itching and help keep the area clean and dry. Remember, the virus dies when it dries. Topical Xylocaine available from your druggist will provide temporary cooling and soothing.
- Douche gently with plain tap water if lesions are inside the vagina. Do not use an astringent sub- stance like vinegar or other commercial preparations.
- Cover the rash brieﬂy while urinating, if it is located so that urine running over it causes discomfort. Drink lots-of ﬂuids to dilute urine acidity.
- Use tampons or minipads if there is a discharge from the cervix. Remember to change them frequently. Tampons can be safely worn during menstruation as usual.
Wear loose clothes. Friction will aggravate the discomfort of genital herpes and retard healing of the rash. Tight designer jeans just might not be worth it. Women will find wearing long skirts instead of pants a great relief if chafing is a problem. Wear cotton underwear; nylon will work against you. This will probably not be necessary in the future when herpes is under control, but do everything to make yourself comfortable now. After cleaning and drying external rashes, a light dusting with talcum powder (preferably unscented) will help the chaﬁng problem a great deal. Friction from vigorous sex. or masturbation will also contribute to discomfort and retard healing. Be careful until the area is completely healed. It is very counterproductive to start the process all over again by abrading skin in the rash area.
Please rest and relax. At the very least, slow down a little! Do not be so busy that you can’t possibly spend a minute on yourself. That is part of what stress is all about making sure your schedule always keeps you too busy to have any fun or relaxation in your day. There are always underlying reasons why people are too busy for themselves. Even a brief look at those reasons will go a long way towards improving any of the discomforts or disturbances of having herpes. When you find yourself continually feeling that you have too much to do or to worry about, take a look at your priorities.
The last important step is often a difficult one, but it doesn’t have to be. Develop a ﬁxed and consistent routine for your comfort measures with definite prescribed times for their application. Then forget about herpes! Don’t let herpes control you, even for the short time of an outbreak. Herpes is just a very small part of your world, albeit an annoying one at times. This is far from being trite or even obvious because one of the major problems with herpes is just that—having herpes continually plaguing your mind. It can become a vicious cycle that will contribute a great deal to your discomfort. So break the habit now. Focus out- ward on work, school, or fun and recreation.
Anxiety and worry about herpes increase physical discomfort and your perception of that discomfort. Reducing that anxiety takes your attention away from herpes for more productive purposes, and also reduces the experience of it. The links between physical discomfort and stress and anxiety are well established. When you have learned what you need to know about herpes from this book, you’ll be able to drop most of the anxieties you may have developed about it and in so doing, reduce your discomfort accordingly.