Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), prompting many to wonder how to get rid of herpes naturally.
The herpes virus can live dormant inside a person’s immune system for a lifetime, periodically causing blisters that burst and turn into open cold sores or ulcers before healing. When left alone, herpes cold sores usually last about 10–14 days and are uncomfortable for a variety of reasons — causing redness, pain, burning and often embarrassment.
Many people wonder if there is a natural cure for herpes or are looking for ways on how to get rid of herpes for good. While technically the virus that causes herpes (whether on the mouth or genital herpes) is not curable, there are many natural herpes remedies that can put herpes into remission. (1) In fact, many people with herpes don’t experience any symptoms at all, especially long term, once they learn to manage triggers of outbreaks. So while there’s no guide for how to get rid of herpes naturally, there is a method for how to get rid of herpes symptoms the natural way and keep breakouts at bay.
By boosting the immune system through a healthy diet, making lifestyle changes and being cautious during periods of active breakouts, you can help keep any virus dormant, including herpes. Certain steps can significantly reduce the chances of having having reoccurring herpes symptoms and lower the risk that you’ll pass the virus to someone else. So if you’re wondering how to get rid of herpes, read on to learn the natural ways to keep this virus dormant.
What Is Herpes?
Herpes, whether on the mouth or genitals, is caused by a family of over 70 related viruses. These viral infections cause small, fluid-filled blisters to develop on the skin and mucous membranes. There are actually eight different types of herpes simplex viruses that both children and adults can acquire, but two are by far the most common: HSV-1 and HSV-2.
The most common reason that people develop cold sores on their mouths is due to becoming infected with HSV-1. (4) HSV-1 usually causes cold sore breakouts around the lips or mouth, or what some people describe as “fever blisters.” Someone can become infected with HSV-1 starting as a child, and then the virus can lay dormant in the body until the immune system is weakened, at which point symptoms can surface.
HSV-2 is commonly referred to as genital herpes because it usually causes cold sores to erupt around the genitalia. In fact, genital herpes is the No. 1 cause of genital ulcers worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and affects up to 1 in 3 adults (although most who are infected don’t even know it). (5) Both types of herpes viruses are highly contagious, and both can cause cold sores in either area of the body (or sometimes both).
Herpes Symptoms and Signs
In order to diagnose herpes, a health care provider can swab an area of visibly active herpes infection or, if symptoms aren’t active, a blood test can be given that measures the number of herpes antibodies present in the body. The antibodies don’t indicate herpes itself, but rather show the immune system’s response to the presence of the virus in the body. It’s important to note that sometimes a swab can give false negative results since herpes lesions need to be large enough to yield enough detectable virus and if the outbreak is already healing it also may not be detected in a swab. (6)
The most common herpes symptoms include:
- Developing either a single cold sore or cluster of multiple cold sores (called vesicles) that form on the lips, inside the mouth, or on the genitals, buttocks and upper thighs.
- Symptoms of type 1 herpes are known as herpetic gingivostomatitis, typically affecting the tongue, lips, gingival, buccal mucosa, and the hard and soft palate of the mouth. Symptoms of type 2 herpes in men usually occur on the base of the penis and around the surrounding area and in women on the vulva, vagina and cervix.
- Sores can sometimes be severe, painful and rupture and cause fluid to be secreted out.
- Some herpes canker sores develop a thin, white coating and burn when touched while they healing.
- Around herpes cold sores, it’s common to feel pain, tenderness and other symptoms of a rash, such as redness or signs of swelling.
- Some people are able to tell before an outbreak if one is going to occur because they feel tingling, itchy sensations near the affected area.
- Some people develop other symptoms during herpes outbreaks that are similar to those caused by a cold or the flu. This may include fatigue, irritability, aches or a slight fever.
Herpes Causes and Risk Factors
Causes of herpes include acquiring the virus through sexual contact, coupled with immune system suppression and sometimes nutritional deficiencies.
Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections are acquired from direct contact with someone who carries the virus. The infectious secretions that pass on HSV-1 or HSV-2 live on oral, genital or anal mucosal surfaces. They’re passed through skin-to-skin transmission, and any form of direct contact with sores on the mouth, buttocks or genitals can cause the virus to be passed.
HSV-1 is primarily transmitted by oral-oral contact. On the other hand, HSV-2 (or genital herpes) is considered a sexually transmitted disease and usually passed during oral or vaginal sex.
A scary finding is that more cases of genital herpes than ever before are now being caused by HSV-1 (the type most people assume only causes mouth sores), and about 85 percent of people with genital herpes don’t even know it. (7) Studies show that about 50 percent of the new genital herpes infections in young adults are due to HSV-1 and about 40 percent in older adults. The fact that most people don’t ever find out they’re infected is one of the reasons that transmission rates are steadily climbing.
Risk factors for acquiring herpes include: (8)
- Kissing someone who has symptoms of an active herpes virus
- Engaging in any form of unprotected sex (including oral sex)
- Having sex with multiple partners (since the infection rate of both HSV-1 and HSV-2 is so high)
- Spreading the virus through contact with cold sores on the eyes, secretions on the fingers, or ulcers/sores on buttocks and upper thighs
- Having certain other illnesses that lower immune function, such as HIV/AIDS, an autoimmune disorder or hepatitis
- Eating a poor diet that causes nutrient deficiencies and lowered immunity
- Smoking cigarettes, drinking high amounts of alcohol or abusing drugs
How to Get Rid of Herpes the Conventional Way
For most people with herpes, the virus typically represents nothing more than an inconvenience — however, the real risk is for immuno-compromised patients who can’t easily manage infections. In these patients, such as those with HIV/AIDS, herpes simplex infection is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. (9)
As of 2017, there is not currently a herpes vaccine available to prevent HSV-1 or HSV-2. (There is a vaccine available for another virus, herpes zoster; however, despite the similar name, it actually refers to the shingles virus. And, in fact, shingles occurs due to the reactivation of yet another virus, varicella zoster, which causes chicken pox.)
Doctors sometimes prescribe medications to help keep the herpes virus suppressed or to speed up healing of cold sores by reducing bacteria that can cause infections. Some medications that are now used to control herpes include:
- Nucleoside analogues and antiviral medications (such as acyclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir)
- Creams/ointment to help lower pain and inflammation near the site of sores
- Over-the-counter painkillers to reduce aches, tenderness or fever
However, it’s important to understand that even with early detection and prescription medications, either form of the herpes virus cannot be totally cured — so transmission is always still possible. Medications for viruses don’t always work long term and are not a cure-all.
The good news is that the first cold sores you experience from either HSV virus will most likely be the worst, and then you can expect immunity against the virus to usually improve over time. You can speed up this tolerance to the virus through making lifestyle changes, as well as becoming educated about safe sex and limiting the risk of transmitting the virus. So if you want to get rid of herpes symptoms, you can do it naturally.
How to Get Rid of Herpes Naturally
Not every person with a herpes infection actually experiences breakouts of cold sores throughout his or her lifetime or even after initially becoming infected. How often someone has a herpes cold sore outbreak, how severe the outbreaks are, how contagious someone is after infection and how long the sores take to heal all depend on someone’s individual immune response.
1. Boost Nutrient Intake
If you’re going to keep the herpes virus from frequently causing outbreaks, the first step in how to get rid of herpes is to improve immune function by boosting nutrient intake. Include these healing foods in your diet to keep the virus dormant as much as possible:
- Foods Rich in L-lysine: This amino acid may prevent replication of the herpes virus. Foods include legumes, fish, turkey, chicken and vegetables.
- Orange and Red Vegetables: These vegetables include antioxidants, such as carotenoids, bioflavonoids and vitamin C to help with skin/wound healing and raise overall immunity.
- Wild-Caught Fish: Fish provides essential omega-3 fatty acids as some of the best omega-3 foods, which help with inflammation and tissue repair.
- Clean, Lean Protein: The body cannot heal without enough protein. Try to get at least four to five ounces of quality protein per meal. Some of the best protein foods include those that are organic, lean and naturally raised, such as wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry and grass-fed beef.
- Zinc: Zinc is needed in many chemical reactions that help rebuild skin and protect the body from viruses or infections. Topical zinc formulas have been found to be effective not only for cold sore treatment, but also for prolonging remissions in herpes. (2) To increase your intake of high-zinc foods, consume more protein sources, such as organ meats (like liver), grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, nuts and vegetables like spinach.
2. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Certain foods can raise inflammation, weaken immune defenses and make skin irritation even worse. Avoid the following foods as much as possible to limit outbreak severity and duration.
- Added Sugar: Too much sugar suppresses immune function and can make inflammation worse. Added sugar is commonly found in bottled drinks, packaged snacks, and flavored products like yogurt, cereal, granola bars and refined grains.
- Alcohol: High amounts of alcohol (in addition to smoking tobacco products and using other drugs) suppress immune function and can make symptoms like fatigue, aches and skin inflammation worse.
- Packaged, Processed Foods: The majority of processed, packaged foods contain genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), hydrogenated oils and grains that can weaken immune function. These foods tend to cause sensitivities or allergies, worsened inflammation, and essentially provide little more than empty calories.
- Acidic Foods: These foods can irritate herpes cold sores and cause worsened pain or burning. Avoid tomatoes, oranges, vinegar or other citrus fruits when you have an active outbreak to keep acid from touching open sores, but otherwise these are healthy foods to include in your diet often.
- Foods Rich in L-arginine: This amino acid might slightly stimulate replication of the herpes virus. Foods to decrease around the time of outbreaks include those with wheat (which is most refined carbohydrates) and chocolate.
3. Consider Supplements
- Antiviral herbs: These include elderberry, calendula, echinacea, garlic, astragalus and licorice root.
- L-lysine (1,000 milligrams three times daily): Can help treat and prevent outbreaks.
- Lemon balm extract: Apply as a topical cream for healing.
- Vitamin C (1,000 milligrams daily): Vitamin C boosts immune function improving herpes.
- Zinc (30 milligrams twice daily): Zinc benefits include supporting immune function, keeping viruses dormant and rebuilding skin tissue to speed up healing.
- B-complex (50 milligrams daily): B vitamins help your body deal with stress and can prevent outbreaks.
4. Try Essential Oils
Essential oils that can help treat herpes include clove oil, tea tree oil and myrrh oil. Tea tree oil is one of the most common oils used on the skin for its natural antiviral, antibacterial properties. (3) Simply apply these essential oils three times daily to areas where cold sores are present, being careful to use a very small amount (only one to three drops). If you have sensitive skin, try mixing the essential oils with a carrier oil to dilute their strength a bit, including jojoba or coconut oil.
If cold sores or canker sores frequently develop on your lips or inside your mouth, you can apply my Homemade Lavender Mint Lip Balm often to reduce their occurrence or my Homemade Canker Sore Remedy and Mouth Rinse.
5. Ease Cold Sore Pain Naturally
If you develop herpes cold sores on your mouth or genitals, there are several ways you can help lower pain and improve healing. Here’s how to get rid of herpes symptoms, irritation and pain:
- Try not to touch any open sores during an outbreak or beforehand. Wash your hands each time you do.
- Don’t kiss someone if you have an open sore or share drinks and utensils.
- Avoid sharing a toothbrush, lip balm or makeup with others to lower risk for transmission. Once a sore is healed, consider getting a new toothbrush since it’s possible for secretions to remain on your brush for a period of time.
- To decrease irritation, only use natural, mild soap and warm water on sores. Don’t pick, attempt to pop or rub sores.
- Don’t apply store-bought anti-itch creams, vaseline, salves or other products that can worsen swelling. Using natural essential oils instead can help (see the recipe above).
- If a sore causes pain, try pressing a warm towel against the affected area to decrease pain, or sit in a warm bath or shower to let the heat reach the area where it hurts.
- Be careful to use a separate towel on your genitals near any open sores than you use on your mouth. You can transmit the virus from one location of your body to another, but this limits the likelihood.
Facts and Statistics About Herpes
- According to the World Health Organization, an estimated two-thirds of the global population (roughly 67 percent) under 50 years old are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). (10)
- Estimates for HSV-1 prevalence in the U.S. among people aged 0–49 years are 178 million women (49 percent of the population) and 142 million men (39 percent).
- In total, about 75 percent or more of the American adult population has the HSV-1 virus that usually causes oral herpes (cold sores), and about 20 percent to 30 percent have HSV-2 that usually causes genital herpes.
- Men and women are affected by HSV-1 about equally. Roughly 6 million women in the U.S. become infected with HSV-1 each year, along with 5 million men.
- Slightly more women than men are affected by genital herpes, whether from HSV-1 or HSV-2. Middle-aged women are most likely to acquire genital herpes.
- Transmission of HSV most often occurs without symptoms, so it’s estimated that 85 percent of people with genital herpes don’t know it. Many don’t have any symptoms at all after the initial infection, and only about 15 percent ever receive a HSV-2 infection diagnosis in their lifetimes.
- Most primary oral/facial HSV infections are caused by HSV-1; however, facial infection by HSV-2 is increasingly becoming common.
- Less children are becoming infected with HSV-1 than in the past in high-income countries, mostly due to better hygiene and living conditions.
- After someone comes into contact with an active herpes outbreak on another person, the incubation period (the time it takes for either symptoms to emerge or for the virus to become dormant) takes about one week.
Precautions on How to Get Rid of Herpes
When a herpes outbreak occurs, you can expect cold sores to take about 10–14 days to heal on average. During this time period, the virus is considered to be active, and you should be very careful to avoid direct contact between a sore and someone else. If after trying the natural remedies for herpes described above you still experience frequent recurrences, talk to your doctor for how to get rid of herpes symptoms. Sometimes immunity is suppressed due to another infection or virus, or even as a side effect of taking some medications, so be sure to rule these causes out.
If a cold sore becomes very inflamed and causes pus to form, it might be infected. Talk to your doctor if the situation becomes severe and painful, especially if it’s your first outbreak and you want to be sure there’s not another cause for your sores.
Key Points: How to Get Rid of Herpes
- Oral and genital herpes are very common diseases that are passed through direct skin-t0-skin contact. HSV-1 is usually transmitted through mouth-t0-mouth contact, while HSV-2 is almost always sexually transmitted.
- Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses can cause cold sore breakouts and ulcers, although many people don’t experience any symptoms after becoming infected.
- The greatest risks for becoming infected with herpes and experiencing symptoms are touching another person’s open sores, having unprotected sex and having low immune function.
- There is no herpes vaccine available. Herpes cannot be cured, but natural treatments can help keep the virus dormant, control symptoms and lower pain from breakouts.
- If you’re wondering how to get rid of herpes symptoms, eat a healthy diet, consume more antiviral herbs and beneficial supplements, apply essential oils and relieve cold sore pain … But remember that while these will help, there is no herpes cure.