Genital herpes. Wow. It doesn’t sound good, does it? But it’s actually a lot more common than you think and there’s plenty you can do to treat it. Here we explain what genital herpes is and the most effective genital herpes treatments.
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an infection caused by a herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV viruses infect your skin on different parts of your body. It’s called genital herpes when the virus infects the skin on and around your genitals. Symptoms of genital herpes include:
- Blisters on the skin on and around your genitals as well as on your anus and buttocks. The blisters can burst to become open sores that leak fluid
- Tingling, itching, or burning around the infected skin
- Swollen glands in your groin
- Pain when you urinate
- Flu-like symptoms (usually only the first time you have an outbreak)
How long does genital herpes last?
Your first outbreak usually lasts for one to three weeks and is often the most severe. Following outbreaks tend to last for a week to 10 days and usually become less severe and shorter lasting over time.
How do you catch genital herpes?
You catch genital herpes through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the infection. This happens most often through sex. That means that genital herpes is classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Herpes infections are more widespread and common than you might think. In fact, around half a billion people under the age of 50 worldwide are infected by the herpes viruses that cause genital herpes. As many as eight in 10 people who have the infection never have any symptoms or any symptoms that they notice.
What if you do have symptoms? This is what you need to know.
Treatment for the first time you have genital herpes
When you first get infected it’s referred to as your primary infection. The virus spreads through your skin cells and causes your first outbreak of symptoms. Often you can also feel generally unwell, with aches and pains and a mild fever. Then the blisters begin to form on your skin. They can be itchy and painful and quickly burst to become sores. The symptoms of your primary infection usually last from one to three weeks.
If you think you have genital herpes the first step to take is to go straight to your healthcare provider or a sexual health clinic to have yourself tested. It’s important to go ASAP whilst you still have symptoms. Learn more about getting tested for genital herpes.
So, what is the best treatment for genital herpes? You can try the following:
Antiviral medication for genital herpes
Antiviral prescription medications like valacyclovir and Valtrex are generally the most effective treatments for genital herpes. You take both of these medications orally to stop the virus from multiplying and spreading. Taking these prescription medications can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and clear them up faster.
Genital Herpes treatment over the counter
You can buy a range of products over the counter that can help ease your genital herpes symptoms. These include painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen as well as anesthetic gels you can apply to affected skin. These treatments can help you live with your symptoms but unlike antiviral medications, they won’t clear your symptoms up faster.
Home remedies for genital herpes
There are a range of genital herpes treatments you can try at home to also help with symptoms. Some people use icepacks or ice wrapped in a tea towel on the affected skin to numb the itching and pain. You can also use warm, salty water to clean your blisters and sores. There’s even the option of taking a salt water bath for genital herpes. Again, these home remedies can help but unlike Valtrex and valacyclovir, they won’t get rid of your symptoms faster.
How to treat recurring genital herpes outbreaks
Can genital herpes go away? Unfortunately, genital herpes can’t be permanently cured. Once you have a herpes simplex virus infection you have it for life.
After your first outbreak of symptoms the virus will be cleared from your skin by your immune system. However, some of the virus infects the nerve cells in your skin where your immune system can’t reach it. Most of the time the virus lies dormant in your nerves but every now and again it reactivates. The virus wakes up and travels down the nerve and back into your skin cells. It spreads again and causes a new outbreak of symptoms. Subsequent outbreaks tend to be less severe than the primary infection, with symptoms usually lasting around a week to 10 days.
People often feel a tingling or itching sensation in previously affected skin around 12-24 hours before blisters and other symptoms emerge. This is the time to act. Taking an antiviral medication like Valacyclovir or Valtrex as soon as you notice an outbreak is coming can help to reduce the severity of your symptoms and cut the outbreak short.
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