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Are There At-Home Treatments for Herpes?

While there are no at-home treatments for herpes, there are several home remedies that may help to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of a herpes outbreak, including warm or cold compresses and topical treatments. Certain changes to your diet or lifestyle may also help with faster healing and the prevention of future outbreaks. In addition to home remedies that help alleviate symptoms, there are prescription antiviral medications that can be used to treat herpes.

What Is Herpes?

Herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes:

  • HSV-1: The most common cause of most oral herpes infections, which can lead to cold sores. It can also cause genital herpes, but this is less common.
  • HSV-2: The most common cause of genital herpes, which can lead to genital sores. Though less common, it can also cause oral herpes.

When a herpes infection occurs, it typically triggers an outbreak of sores near where the virus entered the body. These sores turn into blisters, which can become painful and itchy before healing. The first herpes outbreak is typically more severe and may be accompanied by body aches, a fever, or swollen and painful lymph nodes. Additional outbreaks typically occur several times a year, though they usually become less frequent over time.

There is no cure for herpes. The virus remains dormant in the body between outbreaks. However, certain self-care remedies and medications may help to alleviate symptoms and reduce the frequency of outbreaks.

Dos and Don’ts for Herpes Outbreaks

Before going into the treatment options for herpes, it’s important to note a few important dos and don’ts to keep in mind when an outbreak occurs.

Things you should or should not do when you have an oral herpes outbreak include:

  • Do wash your hands after any time you touch a sore.
  • Do get rid of your toothbrush and start using a new one.
  • Do protect your lips with lip balm.
  • Do take steps to reduce stress, which can worsen outbreaks.
  • Don’t share cups, utensils, towels, or lip balms.
  • Don’t kiss while a sore is present.
  • Don’t try to pop or drain cold sores.

Things you should or should not do when you have a genital herpes outbreak include:

  • Do wash your hands after any time you touch a sore.
  • Do take steps to reduce stress, which can worsen outbreaks.
  • Do wear cotton underwear and loose clothing.
  • Do keep your genital area clean and dry except when showering.
  • Don’t take baths or use hot tubs.
  • Don’t have sex since the virus has a higher risk of transmission.
  • Don’t try to pop or drain genital sores.

At-Home Herpes Remedies

It’s important to practice certain self-care activities when an outbreak occurs. In addition to alleviating symptoms, these at-home herpes remedies may help and, in some cases, can make outbreaks less frequent. Some of the recommended at-home remedies for herpes include:

  • Warm compress: Using heat can help to alleviate pain and itchiness with herpes outbreaks. You can use a heating pad or another type of warm compress, but be sure to wash any materials that come into direct contact with your sores.
  • Cold compress: Applying ice can reduce swelling and itchiness. As with a warm compress, a cold compress should be washed or discarded after touching herpes sores.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Certain OTC medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), can be used to help with herpes outbreak pain.
  • Petroleum jelly: Applying a petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) to the blisters may reduce irritation and discomfort. It can also be used to protect mouth sores from cold or windy weather.

Boosting Your Immune System

Another way to potentially speed up healing for herpes outbreaks and reduce the frequency of future outbreaks is to strengthen your body’s natural immunity. When your immune system is strong, it will be more capable of suppressing the virus.

Some of the recommended ways to boost your immunity include:

  • Minimize stress.
  • Eat a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep every night.
  • Drink in moderation and avoid smoking.

Topical Treatments

Some oils and extracts have been studied for their ability to speed up healing or alleviate herpes symptoms like itching and discomfort. It’s important to note that some of these substances must be mixed with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil or jojoba oil, before being applied. If you skip this step, the substance will be too harsh on your skin and can potentially worsen symptoms.

The following topical treatments may help to treat a herpes outbreak:

  • Witch hazel: Use a diluted solution for sensitive skin.
  • Tea tree oil: Use with a carrier oil.
  • Aloe vera: Can be applied directly.
  • Goat milk: Can be applied directly.
  • Chamomile essential oil: Use with a carrier oil.
  • Eucalyptus oil: Use with a carrier oil.
  • Lemon balm extract: Use with a carrier oil.
  • Licorice extract: Can be applied directly.
  • Echinacea extract: Can be applied directly.
  • Neem extract: Use with a carrier oil.
  • Manuka honey: Can be applied directly.

If you want to try any of these topical treatments, you should perform a patch test on your forearm first. Apply the treatment and wait 24 hours. If you do not experience any irritation, itching, or inflammation, you can safely apply it elsewhere.

Other Treatment Options

If you have herpes, you can ask your doctor or Nurx™ medical provider about getting a prescription for an antiviral medication that can help to treat herpes outbreaks. Some people take the prescription only when outbreaks occur since the medication can help symptoms clear up faster. Other people take antiviral medications for herpes every day to help prevent outbreaks as well. You should discuss these options with your medical provider to decide which option is right for you. To request herpes treatment from Nurx, get started here.

During an outbreak, you should see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • A herpes outbreak that worsens despite self-care and medication.
  • Outbreak symptoms that cause severe pain.
  • Herpes sores that do not heal.
  • Frequent outbreaks.
  • Outbreaks during pregnancy.

Further Reading

Herpes Simplex, Medline Plus, August 2016

Herpes Can Happen to Anyone Share Facts, Not Fears, News in Health, June 2018

Treatment and prevention of herpes labialis, National Center for Biotechnology Information, December 2008

How to boost your immune system, Harvard Health Publishing, July 2018

HERPES SIMPLEX: TIPS FOR MANAGING, American Academy of Dermatology

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