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Is Herpes Curable?

Herpes is not curable — once you have the virus, it never leaves your body. However, the virus can become dormant for long periods of time until something triggers an outbreak. Additionally, some people never experience symptoms from a herpes infection. Those who do have herpes outbreaks often find that the frequency and severity of their outbreaks lessens over time, and many people who have herpes do not even know it.

Types of Herpes Infections

The herpes simplex virus is the cause of all herpes infections. However, there are two types of the virus, each of which primarily affects a certain area of the body:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1): Most cases of this virus occur in the mouth and on the lips. Cold sores are the main symptom of oral herpes.
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2): Most cases of this virus occur in the genital area. Genital sores are the main symptom of genital herpes.

Once someone is infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2, the virus never goes away. However, it can remain inactive for long periods of time between outbreaks. During these dormant periods, the infected person is symptom-free but can still potentially transmit the virus to others (although they are much more contagious during an outbreak).

Herpes Treatments

There is no cure for herpes, but there are herpes treatments which can help to make outbreaks less severe and less frequent.

Some people only need to get treatment during a bad outbreak. For these cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral ointments or creams to alleviate symptoms. Antiviral pills or intravenous medications (shots) also can be used to help end an outbreak.

Daily antiviral medication commonly is prescribed for people with frequent herpes outbreaks. Also known as suppressive therapy, this strategy can reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks and can reduce a person’s risk of transmitting the herpes virus to others. Some of the prescription antiviral medications used to treat herpes include:

If you’ve been previously diagnosed with herpes, Nurx can prescribe oral or genital herpes treatment online and deliver the medication to your door with free shipping. To request herpes treatment from Nurx, get started here.

Herpes Remedies

In addition to herpes treatments obtained with the help of a healthcare provider, there are some at-home remedies which can help during a herpes outbreak. Although most outbreaks go away on their own within about one to two weeks, many people use remedies like these to alleviate their symptoms.

For oral herpes, at-home and over-the-counter remedies include:

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers. This may include taking pills like acetaminophen or ibuprofen or applying a topical pain reliever recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Using over-the-counter creams or ointments for cold sores, which can ease symptoms and speed up healing. If you have frequent outbreaks, keep some on hand and apply it as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on.
  • Applying cool or warm compresses, which can help to alleviate symptoms.
  • Avoiding acidic and spicy foods, which can irritate cold sores.
  • Wearing lip balm with SPF. You should also apply sunscreen to your face daily to help prevent future cold sores.

For genital herpes, at-home remedies include:

  • Avoiding tight clothing, which can irritate genital sores.
  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen or applying a pain-relieving cream recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Applying cool or warm compresses, which can help to alleviate symptoms.

With both oral and genital herpes, you should keep the affected areas clean by gently washing with antiseptic soap and water.

Herpes Triggers

There are certain factors which may cause a genital or oral herpes recurrence. The factors which trigger cold sores or genital sores in one person may not be the same in another person with HSV, and these factors may not cause symptoms to develop every time they occur. However, it’s important to be aware of them in order to help minimize the frequency of outbreaks.

Some of the common factors associated with herpes outbreaks include:

  • Hormonal changes, including menstruation and pregnancy.
  • Extreme hot or cold temperatures.
  • Physical or emotional stress.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Illness.
  • Infection.
  • Immune system issues.
  • Surgical trauma.
  • Steroidal medication.

With oral herpes, the following factors may also act as outbreak triggers:

  • Damaged, dry, or cracked lips.
  • Sunburn on the face or lips.

With genital herpes, the following factors may also act as outbreak triggers:

  • Friction in the genital area.

Possible Herpes Complications

Because outbreaks become less frequent over time and typically go away on their own, most cases of herpes do not pose a serious risk to a person’s health. However, there are some cases in which more serious health issues may develop as the result of a herpes infection. Some of the possible complications of herpes include:

  • Increased risk for STIs: When someone has an outbreak of genital sores, they are more likely to transmit or contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Rectal inflammation: Inflammation of the lining of the rectum, also known as proctitis, may develop as a result of genital herpes. This is most likely to occur in men who have sex with other men.
  • Bladder issues: Genital herpes sores can potentially cause inflammation of the urethra. If this occurs, a catheter may need to be inserted in order to drain the bladder.
  • Eye infections: The virus may spread to the eyes, which can potentially cause vision problems or blindness with repeated infections. It’s important to wash your hands frequently during outbreaks to prevent transmission to the eyes.
  • Widespread outbreaks: People with eczema are at risk for herpes spreading to other areas of skin. If an outbreak of sores occurs across a large area of skin, it should be treated as a medical emergency.
  • Meningitis: In very rare cases, a herpes infection could cause the membranes and fluid around the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed, leading to meningitis. This usually only occurs in those who have a weakened immune system.
  • Newborn infections: Genital herpes can potentially be spread from mother to child during birth. Oral herpes can potentially be spread to babies through skin-to-skin contact. A herpes infection in a baby under 6 months of age is very serious and can lead to dangerous complications, including high fever, seizures, brain damage, blindness, or even death.

These complications are relatively rare. However, it’s important to talk to a doctor if you have concerns about possible health risks from your herpes infection.

Further Reading

Herpes Simplex, MedlinePlus, October 2019.

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