Psoriasis or Herpes: Which Is It?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on June 26, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin

You may have noticed sore, itchy, or red skin around your groin area. If the irritation hasn’t gone away after a couple of days, don’t ignore it. You may be experiencing one of several different skin conditions, such as genital psoriasis or herpes.

Keep reading to learn more about these two conditions, including tips for identification, risk factors, and different treatment options.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an inherited autoimmune disease. It can come in many forms and range from mild to severe. The disease causes skin cell production to speed up dramatically. These cells collect on your skin’s surface and create areas of thickening and irritation.

Five key symptoms of psoriasis can include:

  • patches of red skin, possibly with silver scales
  • dry or cracked skin
  • itching or burning in affected areas
  • thick or pitted nails
  • stiff or swollen joints

The affected areas typically include:

  • elbows
  • knees
  • scalp
  • back
  • face
  • palms
  • soles of your feet

You may also experience psoriasis on your genitals. The most common type of psoriasis found in this region is inverse psoriasis, which forms in the folds of your skin. It may appear as smooth, dry, red lesions. Inverse psoriasis often lacks the scales associated with plaque psoriasis.

What is herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that may or may not cause symptoms. Sexually active people may pass this disease on to others without even knowing it. Proper diagnosis is key.

When herpes does cause symptoms, they can include pain, itching, and soreness around your genitals. These symptoms may begin as early as 2 to 10 days after exposure.

Three other symptoms to watch for include:

  • red bumps or white blisters
  • ulcers that ooze or bleed
  • scab formation as ulcers and blisters heal

During the first stage of the virus, you may have swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and other flu-like symptoms. Skin irritation with herpes is generally localized to your genitals.

There’s some variation in where men and women typically see the signs:

  • Women experience irritation in their vagina, on their external genitalia, or on their cervix.
  • Men tend to develop sores on their thighs, penis, scrotum, or urethra.
  • Women and men may find herpes on their buttocks, anus, or mouth.

Herpes can make you more susceptible to other STDs if it’s left untreated. You may also develop a bladder infection, meningitis, or rectal inflammation. An infected woman can pass herpes to her newborn baby.

What are the risk factors for psoriasis?

Because psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, you can’t catch it from someone else. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, only about 2 to 3 percent of the population will develop this disease. You’re at higher risk of psoriasis if you have a family history of the disorder.

Other risk factors for psoriasis can include:

What are the risk factors for herpes?

In the United States, one in six people between the ages of 14 and 49 have herpes. You’re at risk of herpes if you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. Women are more likely than men to contract herpes. Your risk of herpes also increases as the number of sex partners you have increases.

Tips for identification

It can be hard to distinguish between genital psoriasis and herpes without the help of a doctor. Here are some ways you may be able to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.

PsoriasisGenital herpes
Affected area is smooth and flat.Affected area has blisters and ulcers.
Psoriasis scales may appear after exposure to certain triggers, such as stress or dry winter air.Symptoms appear 2 to 10 days after sex with an infected person.
Other areas, like your elbows and knees, are also affected.You’re also experiencing flu-like symptoms.
 

How to treat psoriasis

Psoriasis is a lifelong condition. People with psoriasis may find relief from symptoms by using different prescribed oral and topical treatments, such as:

  • steroid creams
  • coal tar
  • retinoids
  • vitamin D
  • immune system suppressants

Another option is phototherapy. This option involves using ultraviolet light in small doses to improve affected patches. Your doctor will take your symptoms and medical history into consideration before prescribing medications.

If you’ve identified different triggers that bring about psoriasis, try to avoid them as much as possible. Triggers can be anything from alcohol to stress to certain medications. Try keeping a diary to track your personal triggers.

How to treat herpes

There’s no cure for herpes. However, your symptoms may become less severe and heal more quickly over time. There’s a variety of medications you can try that might shorten your outbreaks and make them less severe. Talk with your doctor about your options.

Part of your treatment involves practicing safe sex to prevent spreading herpes to others. Here are three steps to having safer sex:

  1. Tell your sexual partner(s) that you have the virus.
  2. Use condoms to lower the risk of transmission.
  3. When you have flare-ups, avoid touching sores, and wash your hands often. This can help prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of your body.

Even if you have no symptoms, you can still pass herpes on to others.

When to call your doctor

It’s a good idea to see your doctor whenever you have a skin issue that won’t go away. Proper identification is your first step toward getting better. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a dermatologist for further expertise.

Having a skin issue on your genitals or elsewhere on your body may make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. Keep in mind that doctors see conditions like these often. They can help you correctly identify what’s affecting you and prescribe treatment to help you manage your symptoms.

If you’re sexually active and haven’t been screened for STDs recently, make an appointment with your doctor. And be sure to share any information about your herpes or diagnosis of any other STDs with any potential sexual partners.

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