There is no cure for genital herpes, but there are many over-the-counter treatment options—as well as supplements, herbs, topical treatments, and even dietary changes—that may help clear up outbreaks faster.
In this article, I’ll talk about the early warning signs of genital herpes, outline some medicines and at-home treatments for outbreaks, and information on how to heal herpes sores faster.
I’ll help you understand what is safe and backed by reliable evidence.
And I’ll tell you when to talk to your doctor.
The Early Warning Signs of Genital Herpes
HSV-1, the virus that causes oral herpes, is even more widespread, impacting almost half of all adults in the U.S.
Worldwide, 3.7 billion people have at least one strain of herpes simplex virus.
A patient can contract HSV and never show signs or symptoms.
You can get the virus that causes genital herpes and never have an outbreak, or it may take years before one shows up.
While the incubation period of HSV-2 is 2-12 days, genital herpes may not show up in that time.
It is also possible to have no genital herpes sores but still be contagious.
If you do contract genital herpes, the early signs of an outbreak can include:
- Tingling, itching, or numbness 1-3 days before sores appear
- Sores or blisters that form in or around the genitals, anus, inner thighs, and around the mouth
- Body aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
If you do develop a genital herpes outbreak, there is no quick-fix medication that will heal the sores instantly.
However, there are antiviral medications that may shorten the outbreak duration.
Other medications may be able to reduce the frequency of future outbreaks.
No medication can cure herpes simplex.
- Oral antiviral medications: These can treat the virus that causes herpes blisters: acyclovir (Sitavig, Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). Your doctor will tell you how to take the medication you are prescribed, but these medications can either be used for 7-10 days when an outbreak occurs, or used daily to prevent outbreaks before they happen.
- Topical antiviral creams: For herpes sore outbreaks, topical antiviral creams can shorten the duration of an outbreak. Some are available over the counter (OTC). Others require a prescription. These include penciclovir cream (Denavir) or acyclovir cream (Zovirax).
- OTC pain relievers: Herpes blisters can be very painful. Using over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can reduce discomfort while the outbreak clears.
Not all supplements are the same, but a few types may be able to support the way that the immune system functions.
This means that it may help your body to naturally suppress herpes simplex, which could decrease outbreaks.
There are no guarantees with this approach, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements for effectiveness or safety as they do with medications.
Talk to your healthcare provider before you start taking something new, as supplements can still interact with medications or may be contraindicated for certain medical conditions.
Zinc is a mineral that supports the immune system’s general function, and may be able to decrease the frequency of herpes outbreaks.
Get more zinc in your diet by eating foods like pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lamb, and pork.
Supplementing daily with 30 milligrams of zinc may also decrease the number of yearly outbreaks.
Vitamin B complex
B vitamins help support general immune and nervous system function.
Because B vitamins are water-soluble, and some B vitamins, like B12, are primarily only found in animal foods, vegans and vegetarians should pay close attention to supplementing these important nutrients.
Even if you eat meat, B vitamins can support general health.
B complex supplements include all the types of B vitamins: niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, B6, and B12.
Vitamin C supports balanced immune function.
It is found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables like bell peppers, oranges, strawberries, and mangoes.
You can also take it in supplement form.
A common supplement dose is 1,000 milligrams.
While no specific diet will cure the herpes simplex virus, eating a nutritious diet and avoiding foods that may trigger outbreaks can help your body have a balanced response to the virus.
Consuming a lot of alcohol, or drinking it on a regular basis, can suppress white blood cells.
These are the cells that the immune system uses to keep viruses under control.
Increased alcohol, and decreased white blood cells, could be a recipe for an outbreak.
Acidic foods can irritate cold sores around the mouth, but they also can affect how well your body digests or breaks down nutrients.
This can lead to changes in the way the immune system functions.
Focus on less acidic foods: Reduce the intake of processed foods, sodas, and sugar.
Eat more omega-3 fatty foods
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory nutrients that support many aspects of health, including a healthy immune system.
Many people do not commonly get enough omega-3s in their diets.
Increase foods that are rich in these healthy fats, like salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
There is more bacteria in the body than cells, and the good bacteria that live in the gut have a regulating effect on how the immune system works.
In one study, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a particular strain of probiotics, helped balance the immune system’s response and general function toward herpes simplex virus.
This study was done in a test tube, though, so the results still have to be tested more thoroughly in humans.
Topical Herbs & Oils
Be extremely careful when putting anything topical on your genitals.
The skin in these areas is far more sensitive than other parts of the body.
Still, some topical herbs and oils, when used correctly, may be able to provide relief for genital herpes sores.
Some rules to follow:
- Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil.
- Always test carrier oils and essential oils in a small, non-sensitive area before liberally applying to the genitals.
- Be mindful of allergens or sensitivities. People who are allergic to flowers or plants may be sensitive to flower-based essential oils.
Many of these remedies do not have strong clinical evidence behind them.
While they may not be proven to be effective, they may also do no harm in trying.
Discontinue anything that causes discomfort or other reactions.
Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before trying anything new.
Tea tree oil
This antiviral essential oil has a strong, earthy smell.
It is used in many natural antibacterial products, including toothpaste, mouthwash, and laundry detergent.
A cell culture has shown that tea tree oil may be effective against the herpes simplex virus, but this was not tested directly on humans.
Dilute with a carrier oil and apply a small amount to genital herpes blisters.
Another potent antibacterial essential oil, eucalyptus may work similarly to tea tree oil.
It has not been studied directly in humans.
Dilute eucalyptus oil with a carrier oil and apply to herpes blisters.
Applying fresh crushed garlic that is mixed with olive oil as a salve to herpes blisters may have an antiviral effect on herpes simplex.
The study was done in a test tube.
Other than a strong garlicky odor, be aware that undiluted raw garlic can cause surface burns and irritation, so be careful when trying this remedy.
Ginger essential oil
Test tube studies show that ginger essential oil can kill the herpes simplex type 2 virus.
To use ginger essential oil, dilute it with a carrier oil to avoid burns and irritation.
Thyme essential oil
In a test tube, thyme essential oil was also able to kill HSV-2.
You can mix this with ginger essential oil and a carrier oil, or just use thyme with the carrier oil directly.
A potent antiviral herb, echinacea as part of a topical treatment was effective against both HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Echinacea can be used without a carrier oil.
Lemon balm extract
Test tube studies in animal cells found that lemon balm extract was effective for suppressing the herpes simplex virus. Dilute it with a carrier oil before trying.
Manuka honey is used as a topical wound treatment for many types of sores or blisters.
Evidence shows that it can be effective for treating sores from HSV-1 or HSV-2.
It is safe to apply to the genital area without dilution.
Topical apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is used for many antiviral and anti-inflammatory purposes.
If you use it for topical genital application, dilute it with warm water of at least three parts water to one part ACV.
Aloe vera is used to soothe burning, stinging sunburns, and it may also be effective for soothing discomfort from genital herpes.
It has wound-healing properties and is safe to apply several times a day.
It does not need to be diluted.
Goat milk has antiviral properties that may be effective against the herpes simplex virus.
Apply goat milk topically to herpes blisters.
No dilution is needed.
Both warm and cool compresses can ease pain and discomfort associated with herpes blisters.
Don’t apply ice directly to the skin, though.
Wrap a cold compress in a soft towel first.
Some research finds that applying a warm compress at the first sign of a sore outbreak, when the tingling or numbing sensations begin, could decrease swelling and pain.
It is not always possible to prevent genital herpes outbreaks, but there are steps you can take to reduce the frequency with which they may occur.
- Sleep, eat, and exercise regularly to support generally good immune health. It is the immune system that works to keep the herpes simplex virus suppressed, which prevents reactivation. If something taxes the immune system, it may make it easier for a new outbreak to occur.
- Minimize stress whenever possible, since stress has been linked to outbreaks and immune dysfunction.
- If you have been prescribed antiviral medications, take them as directed.
When to Call a Doctor
Check in with your doctor or healthcare provider if you notice or experience any of the following:
- Worsening outbreak symptoms in spite of medicine or proper management
- Sores that do not heal after 2-4 weeks
- Frequent outbreaks
- An outbreak during pregnancy
If you have never had genital herpes before, see a medical provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment options.
Subsequent outbreaks of herpes do not always require medical care unless you notice any complications, problems healing, or become pregnant.
While there is no cure for genital herpes, a medical provider can recommend OTC and other treatments that may speed the healing time of sores, reduce the frequency of outbreaks, and relieve discomfort.
Genital herpes may feel like an embarrassing problem, but you deserve to be comfortable.
A medical doctor will not shame you, but will help you to get proper care and find relief.
You can even chat with a K Health doctor right in the app, without leaving your home.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a clinician in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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