Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.
Dr. Aaron Wiegmann
Dr. Wiegmann earned his medical degree (M.D.) from Rush Medical College and completed his General Surgery residency at Rush University Medical Center and Cook County Hospital. He has a Master's Degree (M.S.) in clinical research and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles.
March 30, 2021
In most cases, the initial herpes outbreak after infection is the longest and most severe – it can take three to six weeks to clear up. Following outbreaks may only take three to fourteen days.
Read on to learn how long each outbreak will take to heal, what triggers an outbreak, how to get rid of herpes fast, and how to get treatment online.
Genital herpes, defined by the CDC as “herpes simplex virus type 1(HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2)”, is an extremely common STD. It usually comes in bouts, or outbreaks, of activity, interspersed between periods of dormancy. HSV-2 is the usual culprit causing genital lesions.
The length of an outbreak depends on whether it is:
Generally, the initial herpes outbreak is the most severe and lasts the longest, often taking three to six weeks to resolve.
In the first outbreak, it can take weeks for these lesions to heal. If treated with antivirals, the infection can be shortened to about a couple of weeks.
For 8 out of 10 people infected with herpes who have had an initial outbreak, there will be another outbreak within a six-month period. The second outbreak is usually less severe than the initial outbreak. This outbreak, if untreated, may last for one to six weeks. With treatment, the outbreak will last approximately a week.
Fortunately, recurrent herpes outbreaks may become less severe each time. Typically outbreaks occur two to three times a year, and last from three to fourteen days. If a person has more than five episodes per year, their case can be considered chronic. Over time, as the body builds up antibodies to the virus, the outbreaks become less severe and less frequent. Some patients can go years with any recurrence.
Herpes can’t be cured, but you can control it with medication. Another excellent way to prevent outbreaks is to avoid common herpes triggers.
Here is a list of some common herpes triggers:
Some of these things can’t be avoided (such as catching a cold, necessary surgery, or medication), but some lifestyle choices can help keep the immune system healthy. Avoid too much unprotected time in the sun. Stress is inevitable, however, you can take steps to help alleviate it with stress management techniques or mindfulness.
Many behaviors and environmental factors can trigger herpes outbreaks. To prevent recurring outbreaks, it is best to track specific triggers to you and, in general, avoid as many as you can.
There are other conditions that may present similarly to herpes and are often mistaken for a herpes infection. Some of these include:
A yeast infection is caused when there is an imbalance of naturally occurring Candida fungus in the vaginal area. The pain and itching that accompanies this infection can be very similar to the feeling of herpes. In addition, the herpes lesions may occur out of sight within the vagina or cervix area. The leakage from these lesions may be mistaken for the discharge present in a yeast infection.
Genital warts look like flesh-colored bumps in the groin region, while herpes presents as fluid-filled blisters. However, the lesions can sometimes look similar, leading to confusion. Both genital warts and herpes are similar in that they are both viruses that remain in the body with intermittent outbreaks.
Canker sores can be mistaken for herpes simplex 1 that occurs in the mouth, also known as cold sores. The best way to tell the difference is that canker sores typically form in the soft tissue of the mouth, while herpes develops on the borders of the lips and hard tissue of the mouth. Canker sores are NOT herpes, their cause is not currently known, and they are not contagious.
A herpes sore typically presents as an extremely painful area in the genital area (and may also be spread to the mouth). It begins as a painful and itchy bump that will grow into a blister.
When the blister bursts, it remains an open sore until treated or until it goes away on its own. Weeping blisters are also quite contagious. Unlike other bumps that may be found in the genitalia, herpes distinguishes itself by being very painful.
There is no cure for herpes, but outbreaks can be controlled with antiviral therapy, as well as avoiding common herpes triggers.
“Herpes is most contagious during outbreaks,” reminds Winchester Hospital, “so you should abstain from sex when symptoms are present. Keep in mind that the virus can also be transmitted when symptoms are not present. Some people contract herpes from partners whose symptoms are mild or completely absent, so they do not know that they are infected. Others become infected from people who do not tell them of their condition.”
While not curable, herpes is treatable, and some patients report periods of remission that last for months and even years. Talk to your doctor about the best way to control herpes outbreaks.
The best way to get rid of herpes as quickly as possible is to see your doctor for a prescription antiviral such as Zovirax or Valtrex (which inhibit viral DNA replication). Taking an antiviral can help clear up the infection within a week or so, as well as decrease the severity of symptoms.
To relieve pain, a cool sitz bath can be helpful. Be sure to use gentle soap on the area, without any harsh chemicals or fragrances, as these can irritate the sores.
The quickest way to get rid of a herpes outbreak is to take a prescription-strength anti-viral medication, such as Valacyclovir. This medication is not sold over the counter, and you need a prescription from a doctor to get it.
Thankfully, our partners at PlushCare provide access to online doctors that can write you a prescription in as little as 15 minutes, if this medication is right for you. The board-certified physicians at PlushCare can diagnose and treat your condition all from the comfort of your home.
Click here to make an appointment with a PlushCare doctor.
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