The Best Genital Herpes Remedies

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Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes painful fluid-filled bumps to form in the genital area. It is incredibly common, and roughly 12.1% of the United States population aged 14-49 has HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes. Once a person contracts the herpes simplex 2 virus (HSV-2), it stays in the body for life.

After a person becomes infected, they will experience periods with no symptoms and periods with symptoms (outbreaks) throughout their lifetime. Some people may not have recurrent symptoms or outbreaks. Genital herpes is incurable, but there are many treatment options available to help manage outbreaks.

This article discusses the various types of treatments available for people with genital herpes.

Man talking to healthcare provider

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Genital Herpes Treatment

There are several different forms of treatment people can explore after being diagnosed with genital herpes. They include:

Home Remedies

Home remedies for genital herpes are designed to help manage the symptoms during an outbreak. However, they will not treat the outbreak itself. Some possible home remedies that can make an outbreak easier to cope with include:

  • Taking a warm bath
  • Taking extra care when washing the sores and use fragrance-free soaps
  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen), or Aspirin as a way to combat pain
  • Using a cool compress on the sores a few times a day
  • Wearing loose-fitting underwear and pants during outbreaks to avoid further irritation

How Often Do Herpes Outbreaks Occur?

Outbreak frequency varies greatly from person to person. The average number of outbreaks for a person with the HSV-2 virus is four to five per year, while the average for HSV-1 is less than one outbreak per year. Usually, outbreaks are more common during the first year and become less frequent over time.

Lifestyle Changes

Certain lifestyle factors play into contracting herpes, and they can also be used to help manage the disease. One of the most important lifestyle changes to implement is practicing safer sex.

You can still be sexually active as long as you take the proper precautions, such as wearing a condom during sexual activities and avoiding sexual contact during an outbreak. Even though a person may not have symptoms, they can still spread genital herpes.

Your diet may also play a role in outbreaks. Eating a healthy diet full of whole foods is a good way to reduce the frequency of genital herpes symptoms.

Foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein sources are thought to boost the immune system, which may contribute to a reduced frequency of outbreaks.

Lifestyle Triggers and Herpes Outbreaks

Certain stressors in life can make herpes outbreaks more likely to occur or even bring on an outbreak. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritation to the genital area
  • Injuries
  • Emotional or physical stress
  • Menstruation

Supplements

Certain supplements may help reduce how often a person experiences genital herpes symptoms. One such supplement is L-lysine, which is a type of amino acid that the body uses to help build protein. Research has found that the supplement, in high doses of over 3 grams daily, can reduce how often a person experience symptoms.

Zinc can either reduce the number of outbreaks a person experiences or help with symptoms during an outbreak.

How Long Do Herpes Outbreaks Last?

The first time a person experiences a herpes outbreak, it can last anywhere from two to four weeks. However, when symptoms do appear again after that first outbreak has cleared, they typically only last between three to seven days.

Medications

Antiviral medications are the first-choice form of treatment for people with genital herpes. They are used to reduce symptoms as well as the duration and frequency of outbreaks.

The first line antiviral chosen to treat genital herpes is the antiviral medication Acyclovir. It is typically given orally, but in more mild cases, it can be used directly on the skin as a lotion or cream. Other antivirals that may be used include valacyclovir and famciclovir.

The type you are given will depend on your specific case in terms of how severe it is and how well you tolerate the medication.

How Long Do I Have to Take Medication For?

There are two ways you can take medication for genital herpes. One is every day to prevent outbreaks and/or transmission to your partner and the other is only during the course of an outbreak. The choice will be yours when you begin treatment.

What Not to Do If You Have Herpes

You should avoid doing certain things when you have genital herpes because they can make managing it that much more difficult. Things to avoid include:

  • Bandaging the sores
  • Picking at the sores
  • Using lotions on the area that have not been approved by your healthcare provider
  • Engaging in any kind of sexual contact during an outbreak
  • Sharing drinks or utensils during an outbreak
  • Touching your face, eyes, or other areas of the body after touching sores as the infection can spread

Herpes Treatment and Sexual Activity

While treating herpes can help reduce or limit outbreaks and your ability to transmit the virus to others, it will not completely reduce your risk of passing it to others. That is why, even during your chosen treatment, you should do everything you can to limit the spread to others by:

  • Avoiding sexual contact when you have an outbreak
  • Always wearing condoms
  • Avoiding sharing drinks, food, or anything else that can pass saliva with others during non-sexual contact
  • Be honest with your partner(s) about your herpes status prior to engaging in sexual activity

Summary

Genital herpes can cause painful, blister-like sores in the genital area. When a person is diagnosed with the infection, they will have to treat and cope with it for life. There are many available treatments designed to relieve symptoms and reduce the frequency and duration of outbreaks.

The mainstay treatment for genital herpes is antiviral medications, but utilizing at-home remedies, natural treatments, and lifestyle changes such as supplementation and healthy eating can all go a long way when managing genital herpes infection.

A Word From Verywell 

There is a stigma attached to genital herpes and for many people with the infection, struggling with feelings of shame can be a constant battle. The important thing to remember if you have been diagnosed with genital herpes is that the viral infection is incredibly common and highly treatable.

Knowing what you should and shouldn’t do before, during, and after an outbreak will ensure that you don’t transmit the virus to others and manage your symptoms when outbreaks occur. In addition, if you practice ongoing treatment and follow guidelines, genital herpes is much easier to cope with.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What cream can I put on genital herpes?

    Over-the-counter creams should not be used for genital herpes except for Abreva. It is the only herpes virus cream approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Any other creams you use should be prescribed or given the go-ahead by your healthcare provider.

  • What triggers genital herpes outbreaks?

    There are various things that can trigger genital herpes outbreaks depending on the person. One major trigger is emotional or physical stress. Other triggers can include fatigue, injuries, or irritation in the genital area.

  • How long do genital herpes sores last?

    There is no set time that a person will have herpes sores. That said, the average length of time a person experiences an outbreak is roughly three to seven days. The first outbreak, however, lasts much longer at two to four weeks.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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