Genital herpes lesions that result from a non-primary outbreak can often be confused with more innocuous conditions, such as irritation and ingrown hairs associated with shaving around the area of the genitals or bikini line. However, ingrown hairs pose far less of a concern than does genital herpes, which can be spread from one person to another during sexual contact.
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Ingrown Hair Causes
An ingrown hair occurs when the hair grows out a little, then curls around and grows back into the skin, resulting in inflammation. Sometimes pus will form as well. Ingrown hairs are extremely common and may occur as a result of frequent and close shaving in the genital area or from wearing tight clothing that chafes against the skin. Weill Cornell Medical College states that curly haired people and African-Americans are more likely to get ingrown hairs.
Genital herpes is caused by one of two viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or, more frequently, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), which are spread from person to person. HSV-2 is typically spread through genital-to-genital contact, while HSV-1 is spread when someone with HSV-1 of the mouth (oral herpes) performs oral sex on an uninfected partner. Herpes viruses share a curious feature in that they can reside in the nerve centers for long periods of time, where they remain dormant for long periods of time, sometimes years. Both types of HSV are common, according to the American Social Health Association. Anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of people are infected with HSV-1, which causes cold sores. One in five Americans has genital herpes, although only ten percent are aware that they have it.
Why the Confusion?
Genital herpes lesions can be mistaken for ingrown hairs from shaving, as well as be confused for other conditions, such as a yeast infection, bladder infection, chafing from a bike seat or an allergic reaction to spermicide or condoms. Most non-primary outbreaks are extremely mild, consisting of very small clusters of sores that cover a much smaller area and heal much sooner than those in a primary outbreak, which afflicts those never infected with either type of HSV before. Primary outbreaks are characterized by more severe and numerous lesions that are preceded by flu-like symptoms, such as fever and swollen glands. Lesions take longer to heal, typically between two and three weeks. Those already infected with oral HSV-1 have built up an immunity to other herpes virus types. When exposed to HSV-2, they experience far less severe symptoms than those who were HSV-free.
It's difficult for a medical professional to render a diagnosis of genital herpes simply by looking at the lesions as sometimes they do not resemble the typical watery clusters of sores associated with HSV-2. Similarly, sometimes sores such as ingrown hairs may look a lot like genital herpes when they are not. Two of the best ways to diagnose genital herpes include blood testing or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, in which a culture is taken from the sore.
No medical treatment is necessary for ingrown hairs, as these resolve on their own. However, Mayo Clinic experts advise taking certain measures, such as shaving in the direction of hair growth, refraining from shaving the same area over and over, and putting moisturizer on the skin before shaving. If you have chronic ingrown hairs on around your bikini line, it's probably best to either let the hair grow out or have it removed through electrolysis.
If you have genital herpes, your doctor may recommend use of prescription oral antiviral medications to curb outbreaks. Of utmost importance is protecting uninfected sexual partners, and taking oral antivirals on a daily basis considerably decreases the possibility that HSV-2 will spread. But to better protect your partner, always use condoms during sex and refrain from having sex when you have a herpes outbreak.