Herpes simplex is a virus. That means that there isn’t a known “cure” that will prevent symptoms from returning. But there are things you can do to find relief during an HSV-1 or HSV-2 outbreak.

You may be able to reduce inflammation, irritation, and other symptoms through a mix of lifestyle changes and dietary supplements. However, these remedies aren’t a replacement for a clinical treatment plan.

You should always talk to a doctor or other healthcare professional before you try any alternative treatment. They can discuss possible dosages, side effects, and interactions.

These tried-and-true home remedies may help ease outbreak-related swelling, itching, and stinging. You probably already have what you need for these remedies in your kitchen cabinet or medicine chest.

Cool compress

It may be helpful to use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Apply an ice pack or a clean, soft washcloth filled with ice to the affected area. Repeat as needed every 4 hours. Be sure to never place ice directly on the skin.

Baking soda paste

Applying a baking soda paste may help dry out lesions and relieve itching. To do this, dip a wet cotton ball or Q-tip into a small amount of pure baking soda and dab it on the sore.

Cornstarch paste

Corn starch paste may also dry out lesions and relieve itching. Dip a wet cotton ball or Q-tip into a small amount of cornstarch and apply it to the affected area.

Topical garlic

Research suggests that garlic may have antiviral properties against both strains of herpes. Crush up a fresh clove of garlic and mix it with olive oil to dilute. You can apply this mixture to a sore up to three times per day.

Topical apple cider vinegar (ACV)

ACV is known for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. To reap some of these benefits, mix one part ACV with three parts warm water and apply it to the affected area.

Eating certain foods and avoiding others may boost your immune system and, in turn, help your body respond to the herpes virus.

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that changing your diet could help prevent outbreaks.

Although more research is needed, clinical evidence does support some of these claims.

Antioxidant-rich veggies

Eating vegetables rich in antioxidants can boost your immune system and may minimize inflammation and lengthen the time between outbreaks. Cauliflower, spinach, kale, and tomatoes are rich in free-radical binding antioxidants. They also contain more lysine than arginine, an amino acid ratio that’s important to suppressing herpes.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega 3-chain fatty acids can be used to help your immune system manage chronic inflammatory conditions. Salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, and chia seeds are rich in these fatty acids.

Protein

Consuming a healthy level of protein is vital to the body’s immune response to the herpes virus and other pathogens. Eating a diet high in protein and low in saturated fat by eating lots of almonds, eggs, and oats.

Vitamin C

Researchers have demonstrated that vitamin C can efficiently speed the healing of herpes outbreaks. It may also help prolong the time between outbreaks.

Colorful fruits and veggies like bell peppers, oranges, and strawberries are rich in vitamin C. Mango and papaya fruits also contain the vitamin, without adding a high amount of lysine to your diet.

Zinc

Zinc therapy may reduce the number of herpes outbreaks you have while also giving you a longer time between outbreaks. You can increase the zinc in your diet by eating wheat germ, chickpeas, lamb, and pork.

Taking zinc supplements may also help with a herpes outbreak.

Vitamin B complex

Vitamin B complex supplements contain all of the B-class vitamins. These vitamins boost your energy, help your metabolism, and support healthy cell growth. These functions are essential when the virus is attacking the body in during active outbreak.

B vitamins can boost your immune system to help your body respond to the herpes virus. You can get vitamin B from green beans, eggs, spinach, broccoli, or from supplements.

Avoid acid

Acidic food may irritate cold sores before they’re healed. Fruit juice, beer, sodas, and processed foods all tend to be more acidic. Limit these foods and consider water or sparkling seltzer instead.

Avoid L-arginine

Some research says that you should avoid foods that contain high levels of arginine whenever you can. Chocolate is particularly rich in this amino acid, which some people claim can trigger herpes symptoms. You could try to satisfy your sweet tooth with a vitamin-dense option like dried mango or apricots, instead.

Avoid or limit processed or preservative-heavy foods

Processed food contains synthetic preservatives that may contribute to oxidative stress. Keeping oxidative stress levels low may help promote healing during outbreaks.

Try limiting highly processed foods, like freezer meals, refined grain products, and candies, from your diet.

Supplements may help by supporting your immune system and helping your body suppress outbreaks.

But important to note that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements like drugs. You should always talk with a healthcare professional before taking any supplement. Some supplements may interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Lysine

Lysine is an amino acid that your body uses for digestion and healthy cell growth. Research on lysine’s potential to prevent herpes simplex outbreaks is ongoing. Some reports suggest that a daily dose of 500 mg to 3,000 mg of lysine may be beneficial.

Probiotics

Certain strains of probiotics have been shown to help the body generate an immune response against herpes infections. Taking probiotics may also strengthen your immune system through other ways. Eating yogurt is the first place to start.

Probiotic supplements containing strains of Lactobacillus rhamnosus are known to improve immune function.

When used correctly, certain topicals can help speed up healing, relieve itching, and numb discomfort.

Many topical ingredients, such as essential oils, can burn through your skin barrier if they’re not diluted. Carrier oils, like jojoba and coconut oil, are important for using many topical ingredients safely.

Essential oils can also be used for aromatherapy. Be mindful of your surroundings if you’re using aromatherapy, though. Some essential oils are toxic to pets and can be dangerous for pregnant people.

Use a carrier oil for the following topicals:

Some topicals, such as aloe vera, manuka honey, licorice extract, and echinacea extract, don’t need to be diluted in a carrier oil.

Lemon balm is another product that may not always need a carrier oil since it can be found in various forms; it could be an herb, an extract, or essential oil.

Also be sure to do a patch test before performing a full application. This is the only way to ensure that you’re not applying an irritating substance to an already sensitive area.

You can do a simple patch test by following these steps:

  1. Apply the topical to your forearm.
  2. Wait 24 hours.
  3. If you experience any itching, inflammation, or other irritation, wash the area thoroughly and discontinue use.
  4. If you don’t experience any adverse symptoms within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.

For more information on these natural products, read on.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera has proven wound-accelerating properties. These properties may soothe and heal herpes lesions. Pure aloe vera gel can be applied directly to nearly every area of the body without being diluted.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a potent antiviral ingredient that’s been shown to help with herpes. Tea tree oil must be diluted with a carrier oil before using it on a cold sore or genital herpes.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel has antiviral properties. Some people can use pure witch hazel without experiencing irritation, while others find that it stings. Use witch hazel diluted in water if you have sensitive skin.

Manuka honey

Research from 2017 shows that topical application of manuka honey may be as effective as acyclovir at treating HSV-1 and HSV-2. Manuka honey can be applied directly without dilution.

Goat milk

Goat milk contains an antiviral agent that may work against herpes simplex. You can apply goat milk directly without dilution.

Chamomile

Chamomile is well known as a relaxing and soothing herb. It can be used in teas, but some research also suggests that chamomile essential oil has soothing and virus-fighting properties that may help treat HSV-2. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Ginger essential oil

Ginger essential oil has the potential to kill the herpes virus on contact. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Thyme essential oil

Thyme essential oil also has the potential to fight the herpes virus. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Lavender oil

Lavender oil may also fight the herpes virus. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Eucalyptus oil

Eucalyptus oil may be another antiviral agent against herpes. It can also help soothe and promote healing. It must be diluted with a carrier oil.

Mexican oregano essential oil

Mexican oregano oil contains carvacrol, an antiviral ingredient. It must be diluted with a carrier oil.

Lemon balm extract

Lemon balm may not need a carrier oil since it can be found in various forms. It could be an herb, an extract, or essential oil. In any form, lemon balm may suppress outbreaks and reduce the risk of transmission.

In a 2020 survey of more than 800 adults, a lemon balm mint cream had a high success rate as an alternative treatment for herpes outbreaks.

Combined sage and rhubarb extract

Research suggests that a topical sage-rhubarb preparation may be as effective as acyclovir at treating the symptoms of HSV-1. The extract can be found in topical creams and lotions.

Licorice root

Licorice root’s active ingredient has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties make licorice extract a promising treatment for herpes outbreaks. You can apply licorice root directly without dilution.

Echinacea

Echinacea extract may be an effective antiviral against both strains of herpes simplex. It’s also an anti-inflammatory, which may soothe existing outbreaks. You can apply echinacea extract directly on the skin.

Neem essential oil

Neem extract may also have anti-herpes properties. Pure neem essential oil is potent and may burn your skin. It must be diluted with a carrier oil.

Here are some general tips for herpes outbreak management.

If you have a cold sore:

  • DO ditch your toothbrush and use a new one.
  • DO load up on rest, vitamin C, and zinc supplements when you’re experiencing high stress.
  • DO use a hypoallergenic, clear lip balm to protect your skin from sun, wind, and cold exposure.
  • DON’T share cups or drinks during the outbreak.
  • DON’T try to pop, drain, or otherwise interfere with the cold sore while it’s healing.

If you have a genital herpes outbreak:

  • DO wear cotton undergarments and loose clothing.
  • DO take long warm showers and keep the area clean and dry at all other times.
  • DON’T soak in hot tubs or baths.
  • DON’T have sex. It’s possible to transmit the virus even if you use a condom.

What triggers herpes outbreaks?

Many factors, such as stress, illness, menstrual cycles, sunlight, and certain foods may trigger herpes outbreaks.

Can you permanently get rid of herpes?

There is no cure for the herpes virus, however, there are preventative measures you can take to avoid an outbreak.

How long do herpes sores last?

Herpes outbreaks typically last for about a week. Initial outbreaks, however, may last longer, for about two weeks.

Although home remedies can be a helpful complementary therapy, they aren’t a substitute for clinical treatment.

If nothing seems to be working, make an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare professional. They can assess your symptoms and work with you to find the right medication. They may also be able to recommend other complementary treatments.

If your symptoms worsen after trying a home remedy, discontinue use.

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