Can Genital Herpes Be Treated
Your physician can prescribe different medications to help reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing of an outbreak. These medicines work best when you start them soon after an outbreak occurs.
To reduce pain during an outbreak:
- Sit in warm water in a portable bath or bathtub for about 20 minutes. Avoid bubble baths.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry, and avoid tight clothes.
- Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoid aspirin.
Let your physician know if you are worried about your genital herpes. He or she can recommend a support group to help you cope with the virus.
What Does Genital Herpes Look Like
While some people with genital herpes will never have any symptoms, other people can develop symptoms within a few weeks of being infected.
Often, before the lesions appear, patients describe a prodrome, characterized by a tingling or burning sensation in the area where the lesions will develop that can be noticed during urination, along with itching or discomfort in the genital area.
You can also have the following symptoms:
- Blisters on the mouth or lips
- Fever, headache or pain in the joints
- Trouble urinating
The symptoms of genital herpes often go away and come back as recurring outbreaks. For most people, the first outbreak is the worst, and can last from two to three weeks. Future flare-ups are often less severe and do not last as long. Still, some people shed the virus regularly. The following triggers can make outbreaks more likely to occur:
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Menstrual periods
Recurrent genital herpes is most common in the first year after the initial infection and decreases as time goes on.
In many cases, anti-herpes medicine can help patients. When a person experiences a prodrome and suspects a recurrence is going to happen, they begin taking anti-herpes medications that lessen symptoms and shorten the time of the outbreak.
Get Tested For Other Possible Stis
If you are sexually active, you should ask your doctor about testing options for other STIs like chlamydia, syphilis, HIV, and HPV. Many STIs can be asymptomatic, and early detection can reduce the risk of spreading them or developing symptoms later on.
The CDC lists the following STI screening recommendations for sexually active adults:
- Everyone ages 13 to 64 should get tested at least once for HIV.
- Anyone who has sex with new or multiple male partners should get tested once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
- Everyone who is pregnant should get tested for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C early in their pregnancy.
- People with new or multiple sex partners should get tested for HIV at least once a year.
If youâre unsure about which STI tests you need or when you should get them, you can ask your doctor for advice. They can make recommendations based on your sexual history and provide additional information on different types of STI tests.
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Does A Cold Sore On My Mouth Mean I Have Genital Herpes
No, a cold sore on your mouth usually means you have herpes simplex virus type 1 . You can get HSV-1 by kissing someone or sharing utensils, towels, razors, or lipstick with someone who has HSV-1.
HSV-1 cannot turn into HSV-2 , but you can get a cold sore on your mouth from HSV-2 if you give oral sex to someone with HSV-2. Cold sores caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 are contagious. You can spread it to other people or other parts of your body if you touch an open sore and then touch another part of your body. That means if you have a cold sore and give oral sex to someone, that person will get the herpes virus on his or her genitals.
Avoid touching your cold sore as much as possible. If you touch your cold sore, wash your hands right away to avoid spreading the infection to other parts of your body or other people.
How Do I Know If I Have Genital Herpes
Most people with genital herpes have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms. Mild symptoms may go unnoticed or be mistaken for other skin conditions like a pimple or ingrown hair. Because of this, most people do not know they have a herpes infection.
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. This is known as having an outbreak. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. Flu-like symptoms also may occur during the first outbreak.
People who experience an initial outbreak of herpes can have repeated outbreaks, especially if they have HSV-2. However, repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although genital herpes is a lifelong infection, the number of outbreaks may decrease over time.
Ask a healthcare provider to examine you if:
- You notice any symptoms or
- Your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD.
STD symptoms can include an unusual sore, a smelly genital discharge, burning when peeing, or bleeding between periods .
Read Also: How Do I Prevent Herpes Outbreaks
Remember: The Stigma Is Out Of Proportion
The stigma surrounding genital herpes is far more intense than the infection deserves. Genital herpes has been around for millennia, and HSV-2 is the most common STI in the United States. In fact, according to the WHO, genital herpes affects over 400 million people worldwide.
The genital herpes stigma prevails largely because people don’t understand it. Many assume they can catch genital herpes from a toilet seat or other common surfaces. They aren’t educated about how HSV-2 spreads or affects the body. Others don’t know that genital herpes remains dormant for months or years at a time, allowing those infected with the herpes virus to live completely normal lives.
Overall, genital herpes can be a highly manageable condition, with few physical side effects and no fatalities to date. In fact, you may not even notice the virus at all if your outbreaks are infrequent or mild. Some people find that they don’t experience symptoms until years after their first outbreak!
Can I Breastfeed If I Have Genital Herpes
Yes, you can breastfeed if you have genital herpes, but not if you have a herpes sore on one of your breasts. If you have genital herpes, it is possible to spread the infection to any part of your breast, including your nipple and areola.
If you have any genital herpes sores on one or both of your breasts:
- You can keep breastfeeding as long as your baby or pumping equipment does not touch a herpes sore.
- Do not breastfeed from the breast with sores. Herpes is spread through contact with sores and can be dangerous to a newborn baby.
- Pump or hand-express your milk from the breast with sores until the sores heal. Pumping will help keep up your milk supply and prevent your breast from getting overly full and painful. You can store your milk to give to your baby in a bottle for another feeding. But if parts of your pump also touch the sore while pumping, throw the milk away.
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What Happens If I Dont Get Treated
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or the fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another part of your body, such as your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, immediately wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading your infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your developing fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? above for information about this.
How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Herpes Simplex
You can reduce your risk of contracting HSV-1 by avoiding physical contact with someone who has a cold sore. People can still spread HSV-1 when cold sores arent present, but its less likely.
If someone has an active HSV-1 infection, avoid:
- Sharing utensils, cups, lip balms or other personal care products.
- Touching the skin near their mouth.
If youre sexually active, you can take these steps to protect yourself and others from the herpes virus and other STIs:
- Be monogamous with one sexual partner or limit your number of partners.
- Get tested for STIs and complete any prescribed treatment.
- Tell your sexual partners if you have genital herpes so they can get tested.
- Use condoms during intercourse and dental dams during oral sex.
Wash your hands often if you have an outbreak or are around someone with symptoms.
If your sexual partner has genital herpes, these actions can lower your risk of getting the virus:
- Dont have sex when your partner has active symptoms. Condoms may not cover all sores, so you may still get the virus.
- Make sure your partner takes antiviral medication as prescribed.
- Wait to have sex until scabs fall off active lesions.
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Talk To Your Doctor About Treatment Options
There is currently no cure for herpes, but there are treatment options that can help improve symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Even if you arenât experiencing any symptoms, you should still ask your doctor about possible treatment options.
If you have genital herpes caused by HSV-2, your doctor may prescribe an oral antiviral medication to treat a current outbreak and prevent recurrences. These medications canât cure HSV, but they can reduce symptoms and suppress the virus to help reduce the risk of spreading it to a partner. Antiviral medications are also effective in suppressing and managing symptoms of HSV-1. However, this strain has a much lower risk of recurrences and genital shedding after the initial infection, so suppressive therapy is typically not recommended.
If you have cold sores caused by oral herpes, your doctor may recommend taking antiviral medications or topical ointments to alleviate symptoms. You can also buy over-the-counter topical anti-inflammatory agents or anesthetics to reduce pain and inflammation.
Herpes Coming Out Prompts: Existing Relationships
Option 1: âI have some news to share â I found out that I carry the herpes virus, and I think itâs important for you to get tested. I want to make it clear that Iâm not blaming you for my diagnosis, because a lot of people have herpes without any symptoms. Letâs talk about how you feel after youâve had some time to think.â
Option 2: âI need to have a chat about some news I got recently â I found out I have herpes. Iâve talked to a doctor and Iâve done some research, and itâs not a major problem â but youâll need to get tested and weâll need to start using protection. How do you feel about this?â
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Are Canker Sores Caused By The Herpes Virus
Canker sores are not caused by the herpes virus or by any other virus. In fact, the cause of canker sores is unknown, although they may be triggered by a minor injury in your mouth from dental work or brushing too hard, an allergy, a vitamin B deficiency, stress, or a food intolerance. Some medical conditions, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, may also cause canker sores, and they often occur in families, so itâs possible genetics or environment play a part, too.
Canker sores typically appear as small, round, or oval whitish sores with a red border, according to the Mayo Clinic. They typically occur on the tongue, inside the cheeks, inside the lips, or on the gums. The medical term for a canker sore is aphthous ulcer. Canker sores can be quite painful, but they usually heal within about two weeks without leaving any scarring.
Unlike cold sores, which usually occur outside the mouth, canker sores occur only inside the mouth. Like cold sores, canker sores are recurrent, but they are not contagious: You cant give a canker sore to another person. Canker sores occur more often in teenagers and young adults, and they are more common in women than men.
How To Treat Herpes
When managing herpes, respond quickly. People generally can feel early on when an outbreak is going to occurthey feel a tingling or sometimes an aching sensation, and a little tiny start of a blister, Dr. Brayer says. If you treat it right away you can sometimes block it from coming.
When you first sense a herpes outbreak, immediately:
- Take aspirin. Its an anti-inflammatory and will lessen the virus, she says.
- Apply ice to the area for 10 to 15 minutes to slow the virus and lessen pain.
- Start an antiviral medication. If youve had several outbreaks, ask your doctor for specific prescription meds that you should keep on hand, Dr. Brayer says. If you catch an outbreak early enough, sometimes you can take just one pill and it will stop.
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When Your Partner Has Herpes
What do you do if its not you with herpes but your partner? Hearing the news may throw you for a bit of a loop. If youre worried or upset, thats understandable. However, try not to take it out on the person who told you. Being open and honest about a herpes diagnosis isnt an easy thing to do.
Its quite possible youve already dated people who had the virus. You may already have it yourself. The majority of people with herpes have no idea they are infected.
Its your choice whether you want to keep dating someone after learning of their herpes diagnosis. Dating someone who knows theyre infected, at least gives you the option of intentionally managing your risk.
What Is Life Like For Someone Who Has Genital Herpes
The virus that causes genital herpes stays inside your body forever. While many people carry this virus, some dont know that they have it because they never have an outbreak.
If you have an outbreak, taking an antiviral medicine can shorten the outbreak and relieve symptoms. Some people have several outbreaks. For most people, the outbreaks become less severe and occur less often with time.
Anyone who has been infected with the virus, however, can spread the virus to others during sex. Even if you never have an outbreak, you can still spread the virus.
Related AAD resources
Centers for Disease Control. Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet . Last accessed December 19, 2016.
Fatahzadeh M and Schwartz RA. Human herpes simplex virus infections: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, symptomatology, diagnosis, and management. J Am Acad Dermatol 2007 57:737-63.
Madkan V Sra K, et al. Human herpesviruses. In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. . Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008:1075-6.
Marques AR, Straus SE, Herpes simplex. In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatricks Dermatology in General Medicine . McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1199-1204.
US Preventive Task Force. Serologic screening for genital herpes infection: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2016 316:2525-30.
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Your Love Life Isn’t Over
In addition to creating a space and resources that helped me get my voice and reality into the world, datingwhich felt unimaginable right after my diagnosisalso helped me feel more like myself. I started dating again six months after my diagnosis, and in 2017, began a relationship with a partner .
Even though I’m no longer with that person, even the way it ended is significant to me. I once thought that my herpes status would be responsible for my relationships end, that I would eventually be rejected or left because of the virus held beneath my skinbut that wasn’t the case. We broke up for a completely different reason.
I believe that my exs acceptance of my diagnosis contributed to the revival of my confidence. I not only felt safe sharing my status, but my desires, hopes, and dreams. I now see that my disclosure created an opening to talk about more than just what I wanted or needed in bed. It provided a foundation for how I approached all relationships in my life going forward.
Dating With Herpes And Talking To Sexual Partners About Herpes
Dating with herpes doesnât need to be a big deal. Most people with genital herpes can still have satisfying sex lives.
Yes, there are some things youâll need to do to date responsibly and take care of your sexual partners â like using protection, even when youâre not experiencing an outbreak â but that doesnât mean your dating life will be nothing but awkward moments and heartbreak.
The most difficult part of having a conversation about herpes with a sexual partner is getting started. You may fear the other personâs initial reaction more than anything else, rather than the conversation that happens after theyâve had time to digest new information.
Here are some conversation prompts to help you get over that initial hump:
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Be Open With Your Partner Before Sex
If you have a confirmed or suspected HSV-2 infection, it’s important to make sure your partner is informed before becoming sexually active.
Condoms can help keep the virus from spreading, but they don’t prevent all types of transmission. In fact, the transmission of HSV-2 via oral sex is possible even if there are no sores present on the genitals or mouth.
Though it’s impossible to completely eliminate the chances of transmission, prevention techniques are very effective. For example, one large study reported that only 1.9% of susceptible partners became infected with clinically symptomatic HSV-2 when given the antiviral valacyclovir as a precautionary treatment.
It’s essential to be open and honest with your partner. By improving communication, educating yourselves, and managing expectations, you can better reduce the risk of spreading a genital herpes infection to your partner.