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Can herpes go away on its own?

All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Herpes is an infection caused by two types of viruses- herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), and  herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 causes oral herpes, which results in cold sores or blisters on or around the mouth. Genital herpes can be caused by HSV-1 or 2, and usually appears as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, known as an “outbreak”. The blisters break and leave painful sores, and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms in the first outbreak. The World Health Organization estimates that close to 67% of the world’s population has HSV-1, and that about 11% have genital herpes, or HSV-2 (WHO, 2022). Since genital herpes can cause little to no symptoms, many people may have an infection without knowing it.

Many people do not experience herpes symptoms for weeks or even years after being infected, and may go long periods between outbreaks. Outbreaks heal on their own, but treatment can be used to lessen symptom severity, frequency, or risk of transmitting the virus to others. Would you like to check if you have herpes along with six of the most common sexually transmitted infections from home? Try Homed-IQ’s STI Test Comprehensive

What is the treatment for oral herpes?

HSV-1 or oral herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, such as kissing or sex. Unlike genital herpes, HSV-1 can be passed through kissing alone, which is why it is much more common than HSV-2. Children and babies can also contract HSV-1 from being kissed by adults who have a cold sore. Herpes does not have a cure, but symptoms can be managed to reduce their impact on your life.

Cold sores usually go away on their own and don’t require treatment. However, antiviral ointment, cold sore patches or anesthetic products can help relieve symptoms and speed up the healing process (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022). 

What is the treatment for genital herpes?

Like oral herpes, lesions from genital herpes will clear up on their own. To prevent or reduce the severity of outbreaks, some people choose to take daily antiviral medication. Anesthetic cream can also be used to reduce the pain from the lesions.

For most people, the first genital herpes outbreak is the worst. Future outbreaks are often less severe and do not last as long.l

How long does it take for herpes to go away?

Oral herpes infections usually resolve themselves in 1-2 weeks, although this may be shortened with treatment. Initial genital herpes outbreaks may take 2-3 weeks to resolve, with future outbreaks lasting an average of ten days (NHS, 2022). 

What happens if you leave herpes untreated?

Herpes does not require treatment, and outbreaks will go away on their own. As some people only experience mild symptoms, they may unknowingly have herpes for long periods of time without treating it. Treatment can be used to reduce symptoms and length of the outbreaks, as well as reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others.

Although treatment for genital herpes is not required, managing outbreaks can help avoid complications, such as:

  • Passing the infection from mother to child during birth: if you have genital herpes and are pregnant, speak to your doctor about how to minimize your baby’s exposure during birth.
  • Other STIs: having genital lesions increases your risk of contracting other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Urethra or rectal inflammation: herpes sores can inflame the rectum or urethra, causing discomfort and problems with urination or bowel movements.

Source: Mayo Clinic, 2022

Can you treat herpes yourself?

The herpes virus is not curable, but outbreaks will clear up on their own and can be managed from home. Other than antiviral medications or numbing products from the doctor or pharmacy, follow these guidelines for treating an outbreak at home:

  • Wash your hands after touching a sore
  • Keep the area clean and dry
  • Don’t try to pop or drain sores
  • Apply cool compresses to relieve pain and itching

Source: NHS, 2021

Can herpes be dormant for a long time?

Herpes symptoms do not always appear immediately, which is why some people have the virus for an extended period of time without knowing it. After the initial outbreak, some people do not have a recurring outbreak for months or even years. Even if you do not have symptoms, it is still possible to transmit the virus to others. Daily antiviral treatment can help reduce risk of transmitting the virus to others (CDC, 2022).

Is there a cure for herpes?

At this time there is no cure for herpes. As described above, you can use treatment to manage outbreaks and prevent their severity. Additionally, the following tips can help prevent outbreaks from occurring:

  • Eat healthy and get adequate sleep to keep your immune system strong
  • Keep stress low. Herpes outbreaks can be triggered by stress.
  • Protect yourself from extreme weather. UV light, cold, and strong winds can trigger outbreaks in some people.

References

Genital herpes – Symptoms and causes. (2020, October 13). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/symptoms-causes/syc-20356161

Genital herpes symptoms & treatments. (n.d.). Illnesses & Conditions | NHS Inform. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/sexual-and-reproductive/genital-herpes

Herpes simplex virus. (2022, March 10). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus

NHS website. (2022, June 24). Genital herpes. nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/genital-herpes/

Oral Herpes. (2021, August 8). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/herpes-hsv1-and-hsv2/oral-herpes

STD Facts – Genital Herpes. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm

About the Author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator living in the Netherlands. She has completed a Research Master in Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Netherlands Institute for Health Sciences (NIHES) with a specialization in epidemiology, and a B.Sc. in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and enables people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren serves as Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with medical doctors and medical device scientists on Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.