Home Remedies for HSV-1 & HSV-2

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 19, 2022

Herpes is not a curable disease, but it is treatable.

There are many ways to lessen the severity and frequency of herpes flare-ups, including home remedies that can be used alongside prescription medications.

While most people who have herpes do not experience symptoms at all, others experience one initial outbreak, and others have recurrent outbreaks with painful sores, blisters, or lesions, most often on the mouth or genitals. 

For these patients, the goal of treatment is to reduce discomfort, support the healing process, hasten remission, and reduce the frequency of future outbreaks.

In this article, I’ll explore how home remedies can help accomplish these treatment goals.

I’ll explain the difference between oral and genital herpes, and review the most common symptoms.

I’ll go over the major do’s and don’ts for herpes outbreaks.

Then I’ll review the latest recommendations around home remedies for herpes, including dietary changes, and I’ll explain how these home remedies can be used alongside other treatment options.

I’ll discuss steps you can take at home to prevent herpes from flaring up and spreading.

And I’ll tell you when to see a doctor about herpes.

What is Herpes?

Herpes is a common, lifelong viral infection that is spread from person to person through close, direct, and intimate contact.

It affects nearly half of all American adults under the age of 50.

What we commonly call “herpes” is actually two different forms of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. 

No one’s experience with either of these strains is exactly the same.

Many infected people never experience a visible sore, and among those who do, the frequency and severity of the outbreaks can vary widely.

Both strains of HSV can be diagnosed via a swab test or blood test taken at a medical clinic.

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Oral herpes (HSV-1)

If you have a cold sore on your mouth, that likely means you’re dealing with herpes simplex virus-1, or HSV-1. 

HSV-1 is the strain that is primarily responsible for oral herpes.

In some rare cases, HSV-1 infections can also cause genital herpes outbreaks, especially if the virus is spread through oral sex. 

Genital herpes (HSV-2)

If you have herpes sores on your genitals or anus, you are most likely experiencing a herpes simplex virus-2 infection.

Also called HSV-2, this strain is primarily spread through sexual contact with a person that has an active infection. 

Symptoms

During an active outbreak, the most common symptom of a herpes infection is pain and herpes lesions.

These are small red bumps or white blisters, sores, or open ulcers, that emerge on the mouth, face, genitals, anus, inner thighs or buttocks.

Other symptoms associated with herpes outbreaks include:

  • Pain or burning during urination (for genital herpes)
  • Vulvovaginitis, or other forms of vaginal discomfort and discharge (for genital herpes)
  • Gingivostomatitis, lesions and swelling in the mouth and gums (for oral herpes)
  • Tender, enlarged or swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Fatigue, or a general feeling of being run down
  • Headaches or body aches

Typically, herpes outbreaks will resolve on their own in 1-2 weeks.

At this point, the herpes virus will move from your skin cells into your nervous system. There, it will lay dormant until it is reactivated by a trigger, such as stress or another illness.  

Do’s and Don’ts for Herpes Outbreaks

With oral herpes outbreaks, avoid irritating the inflamed area any further. Eat bland, healthy foods while avoiding salty, sour, acidic and spicy foods.

Switch to a softer toothbrush to avoid irritating your lips and gums. For genital herpes outbreaks, air drying speeds healing.

Try to wear loose fitting clothes and breathable cotton underwear. Wash sores gently and dry them, but do not bandage them tightly afterward. 

Never pick at or open up herpes sores, as this can worsen the infection and and even spread the infection to other parts of your body.

Home Remedies for Herpes

There is currently no cure or vaccine for either HSV-1 or HSV-2.

Prescription medications have been proven safe and effective in reducing pain and partially suppressing the herpes virus during active outbreaks.

But many natural treatments and home remedies can complement these treatments and help to soothe outbreak symptoms in their own right. 

In recent years, scientists have expanded their research into the antiviral properties of certain natural remedies.

If proven effective in the future, these remedies could be especially important in battling infections that have become resistant to prescription antivirals.

Supplements

Several decades’ worth of smaller studies have suggested that high doses of Vitamin C can help shorten herpes outbreaks. 

Scientists are also continuing to investigate the mineral zinc, which has been shown to help healing when applied topically to oral herpes.

The goal is see if it can also help suppress genital herpes outbreaks when taken as an oral supplement. So far, results have been inconclusive. 

Mixed results have been associated with the amino acid lysine, which in theory can help inhibit another amino acid, arginine, that is associated with HSV replication.

While taking lysine supplements doesn’t seem to have an effect on active outbreaks, there remains a possibility that it could lower the frequency of future outbreaks when taken daily.

Topical herbs

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that around 80% of the world’s population use plant medicine to treat herpes outbreaks.

In cases where plants and herbs have been shown to help with herpes symptoms, it can still be hard to determine exactly why they work.

That’s because compared to medications that isolate one or two “active ingredients,” herbal treatments contain more complex combinations of “active” phytochemicals.

This complexity can also be a benefit, because it may make it harder for HSV strains to adapt to and become resistant to herbal remedies. (Over the medium- and long-term, some people begin to develop drug resistance to more “straightforward” topical medications like acyclovir).

For this reason, scientists are hard at work studying the effects of topical preparations made from complex plant ingredients like aloe vera gel, lemon balm leaves, licorice root, and pomegranate rinds

Many of these herbal preparations are already popular among patients for their cooling and soothing effects.

Researchers are now in the early stages of trying to discover whether these ingredients can also work as antiviral treatments with minimal side effects.

Essential oils

Certain purified, plant-derived oils like tocopherol (a vitamin E oil derived from vegetable fats) can support healing and reduce discomfort during HSV outbreaks. 

Essential oils, meanwhile, are plant oils that are distilled and processed in a way that retains more of a plant’s complex phytochemicals—some of which may hold antiviral properties. 

So far, a few small studies have shown that tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils in particular may help reduce the length and severity of outbreaks.

But more study is needed.

If you get your doctor’s go-ahead to try essential oils, always dilute these intensely fragrant and potentially irritating substances before applying them directly to skin.

Tea tree oil has been known to cause burning and irritation when applied directly to skin.

Patients should especially avoid applying any non-sterilized, non-prescription-grade plant ingredients in or around their genitals.

Warm compresses

For genital herpes outbreaks, it can be helpful to apply a cool or warm compress to the affected areas.

Doing so won’t necessarily speed up healing, but keeping the skin moist can help relieve itchiness and irritation.

Use a clean, damp washcloth for your compress.

Do not use any scented soaps or oils, or water that is too hot.

Dietary Changes

Researchers are still studying whether eating lysine-rich foods like legumes and animal proteins can help prevent future herpes outbreaks. 

Regardless, whether you’re dealing with or hoping to prevent a herpes outbreak, you’ll want to do everything you can to support a strong immune system, and that includes eating a healthy, well balanced diet.

With oral herpes outbreaks in particular, it can be helpful to switch to blander foods while avoiding salty, sour and spicy options to decrease irritation to your lips and mouth. 

Other Treatment Options

In the hopes of getting ahead of any future drug-resistant HSV outbreaks, researchers are always looking into alternative treatment options.

Most notably, there have been several promising early studies of phototherapy devices, which use certain frequencies of light to treat herpes outbreaks.   

For the moment, however, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends prescription medications as the gold-standard treatment for herpes outbreaks. 

Medications

Prescription-strength treatment includes topical antiviral creams like acyclovir, which is used most often for oral herpes outbreaks, as well as some painkillers.

For patients with genital herpes, as well as particularly acute forms of oral herpes, doctors will often prescribe orally administered antivirals.

The three most commonly prescribed antivirals for genital herpes are acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. 

During an active herpes outbreak, oral antivirals are usually taken multiple times a day for several days.

As a preventive treatment for genital herpes, antivirals are typically once or twice daily.

Prevention

There is no way to completely prevent the possibility of a future herpes outbreak, but there are many ways to minimize the risk of future outbreaks.

This includes taking antiviral medications year-round at a lower dose. 

Try to make lifestyle changes that support your immune system and manage triggers.

These include eating well, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.

For oral herpes, protect against skin damage around the mouth, as this can sometimes trigger a cold sore outbreak.

Wear sunscreen and moisturizer, even on your lips, and try to protect yourself as much as possible from extreme sun, wind, cold, and heat.

The other side of prevention involves reducing the spread of herpes to others. Antiviral medications are one important prevention tool.

So are condoms and other safe sex practices. Take extra precautions when you are experiencing an active outbreak of oral or genital herpes.

Always wash your hands well after touching a herpes sore.

And try to avoid any forms of oral, anal, or vaginal sex, as well as kissing, that might bring other people into contact with a herpes sore.

If you have an active cold sore, do not share dishes, towels, toothbrushes, or makeup with other people.

Looking for herpes treatment? Chat with a medical professional through K Health.
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When to See a Doctor

Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect that you are experiencing an initial outbreak of genital herpes, or are experiencing especially severe and frequent recurrent outbreaks.

It’s especially important to consult your doctor about initial or recurrent genital herpes outbreaks if you are pregnant, are trying to become pregnant, or if you have a compromised immune system.

Talk to your doctor about which herbal treatments or oral supplements they recommend, if any, as a complementary treatment.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? K doctors are able to treat herpes with medication, but patients must be diagnosed already. If you’re worried that you might have genital herpes, a K doctor can refer you to a physician for an in-person visit.

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.

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