Knowing that you have herpes is hard, but it helps to know that you’re not alone. In fact, herpes affects an estimated 491 million people aged 15 to 49.
There is no known herpes cure. But if you have oral herpes, you should use a topical cream or ointment as soon as an outbreak appears. You should also use the best over-the-counter treatments for genital herpes if you develop a genital herpes outbreak. Herpes medication aims to reduce outbreak severity, provide relief, and control outbreaks.
If you have never had an outbreak before, you may be wondering how long they last. It’s a valid concern given that there is still so much stigma around this disease. The good news is that there is hope if you ever encounter a herpes outbreak. This article will explore how long a herpes outbreak lasts and what you can do about it.
What is Herpes?
Herpes results in tiny, uncomfortable blisters on or near the vaginal or rectal areas. Men and women can both contract herpes from one another. Herpes can also spread during vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse. It also spreads through direct contact with an infected area or the sharing of contaminated personal items.
How Long Do Herpes Outbreaks Last?
Most people associate the word “herpes” with a sore at the edge of your lip when you have a cold. Herpes is a little trickier than that, though. Believe it or not, the majority of herpes sufferers are completely unaware. That’s because the infection can be completely asymptomatic.
If you want to know how long you can get herpes, you should learn more about the two types of herpes. We outlined below the difference between oral and genital herpes, and how long each outbreak lasts.
1. HSV-1 or Oral Herpes
The initial oral herpes infection occurs during childhood and is not caused by sexual contact. The signs and symptoms resemble a cold much more. When it is severe, the initial outbreak may include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, swollen gums, and sores in the mouth and throat.
Now, if you’re wondering if a herpes outbreak may last forever, the answer is no. Herpes outbreaks end in 2 to 3 weeks, but the healing of the sores might take up to 6 weeks.
HSV-1 progresses through multiple stages:
Stage 1: When your skin or lips come into contact with HSV-1, you will experience reddening and a tingling feeling. The area will become irritating, itchy, and painful after 1 to 2 days.
Stage 2: The region affected by the virus swells and becomes inflammatory.
Stage 3: Blisters or cold sores that are filled with red, white, or clear fluid start to appear. They are painful or touch-sensitive sores that emerge in a cluster and remain for around 2 days.
Stage 4: The lesions may rupture after 1 to 2 days, discharging fluid and getting worse. This often takes about a day or so to pass.
Stage 5: As the sores start to heal, a crust may form on top of the ruptured blister and turn into a scab. In 2 to 3 days, new skin will start to develop.
Stage 6: At this point, the scab that covered the blister will begin to mend. To prevent getting a scar, wait until the incision is fully healed before peeling the scab off.
In extreme cases, such as those with weak immune systems, herpes takes months to disappear. Even so, you need to know that herpes never goes away. The virus still hangs around in your body even when there aren’t any outbreaks.
But, the virus can escape and result in a cold sore if you get a cold or another disease. The duration of recurrent outbreaks is one to two weeks. That is, if you count the tingling or burning feeling that emerges before the outbreak develops, though triggers vary. Without herpes treatment, discomfort from these outbreaks often lasts seven days.
Recurring outbreaks last less time for affected individuals than the initial infection. Even if you are asymptomatic during this second outbreak, you can pass the virus to your partner. So, it is best to be aware of the symptoms as soon as an outbreak starts so you can get tested and treated.
2. HSV-2 or Genital Herpes
The first outbreak of genital herpes can last far longer than the next ones. You can experience fever and other symptoms, and some of these can last for weeks. You can refer to it as having your first herpes “outbreak” when these symptoms appear. After exposure, initial herpes on the vagina takes about 2 to 12 days to incubate.
Like oral herpes, you will experience different stages of genital herpes.
Stage 1: Prodrome, the first stage, is the most infectious. HSV-2 activation inside the skin can cause pain, tingling, or itching to start.
Stage 2: The skin may become sensitive and turn red during this stage, which lasts for 1 to 4 days.
Stage 3: Lesions and sores will start to emerge around the infected area and linger for 2 to 6 days. They will swell and can be excruciatingly painful.
Stage 4: The sores or lesions will enlarge and finally explode, releasing the fluid inside. The opened sores can remain open and bleeding for 1 to 4 days.
Stage 5: The sores will dry out and scab for a few days after the fluid has drained from them.
Stage 6: When the scabs come off, the wounds will heal. In other cases, you won’t get any scabs and your lesions will just go away. This stage of a genital herpes outbreak takes about 3 to 7 days.
Recurrent genital herpes outbreaks can also be asymptomatic, like oral herpes. When symptoms occur, later infections often cause less pain and faster recovery than the initial infection.
Over time, it is also normal for fewer people to experience symptomatic breakouts. If you have a genital herpes outbreak, you should consult a doctor to receive the best genital herpes treatment.
Things to Do if You’re Experiencing a Herpes Outbreak
Most herpes outbreaks resolve on their own, even without medical intervention. You can also lessen and avoid recurrent herpes outbreaks with the right herpes medication. These antiviral medications stop the virus from replicating in your body.
There are different herpes treatments available, such as:
- Immune Boosters
- Topical Treatments
Additionally, maintaining good personal hygiene can stop the spread of cold sores. It might also aid in reducing the duration and intensity of the breakouts. During a herpes outbreak:
- Avoid touching the sores, especially if you have any cuts on your skin that are still open.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. If you’re in a place where water is not available, you can use hand sanitizers or alcohol.
- Be cautious not to expose other body areas, such as your eyes or genital region, to the virus.
- Gently clean your herpes sores with soap and water.
- Don’t bandage open wounds. The air will speed up the recovery of your herpes outbreak.
- Avoid picking at sores. They may get contaminated, which would delay healing.
- Only use ointment or lotion that has been prescribed by your healthcare practitioner.
- Get lots of rest. Fatigue and stress can trigger the recurrence of a herpes outbreak. By getting well-rested, you can keep your immune system healthy.
- You can also keep your immune system healthy by eating nutritious foods.
To Wrap it Up
The herpes virus may be dormant for long periods. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry with herpes. While there is currently no cure for genital herpes, you can manage the virus with proper care. Outbreaks happen, and preparing for them can make things a little easier.
And remember, knowledge is power. Having a better understanding of herpes can help reduce your apprehension about it. If your symptoms are severe or if you have repeated outbreaks, then you should see a doctor as soon as possible. It’s important to get the correct diagnosis so that treatment can begin straight away.