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 provider before you try any alternative treatment. They can discuss possible dosage, 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.
Preliminary research suggests that it may be helpful to apply heat as soon as you feel a sore forming. If a sore has already formed, heat may help minimize pain and swelling.
You can make a dry warm compress by filling a sock halfway with rice and microwaving it for just under a minute.
You can also 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 four hours.
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.
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.
Older 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 to the affected area.
Eating the right foods and avoiding certain ingredients may boost your immune system and, in turn, help your body fight off 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.
Eating vegetables rich in antioxidants can boost your immune system and may minimize inflammation. 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
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 therapy may reduce the amount of herpes outbreaks you have while giving you a longer time between outbreaks. You can increase the zinc in your diet by eating wheat germ, chick peas, lamb, and pork.
Vitamin B complex
B vitamins can boost your immune response to help your body fight the herpes virus. You can get vitamin B from green beans, eggs, spinach, and broccoli.
Acidic food may break open 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 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. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a vitamin-dense option like dried mango or apricots, instead.
Your body converts added sugars to acid. Avoid foods high in added sugar and consider naturally sweet treats, like bananas and oranges, for your desserts.
Processed or preservative heavy
Processed food contains synthetic preservatives that may contribute to oxidative stress. Keeping oxidative stress levels low may help promote healing during outbreaks. Try cutting processed foods like freezer meals, refined grain products, and candies from your diet.
Alcohol breaks down in your body to the equivalent of a sugar. High sugar consumption is linked to white blood cell suppression — which can make outbreaks more likely. If you’re going to consume alcohol, do so in moderation, and choose a less acidic beverage, like wine.
Supplements may help by supporting your immune system and helping your body suppress outbreaks.
But supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) like drugs. You should always talk to a healthcare provider before taking any supplement. Some supplements may interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Taking zinc may reduce how many herpes outbreaks you experience each year. Taking 30 milligrams (mg) per day could be enough to help fight herpes.
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 herpes is attacking your body in an active outbreak. Different supplements on the market will vary in how much of each B vitamin a B-complex product contains.
Lysine is an amino acid that your body uses for digestion and healthy cell growth. Research on lysine’s potential to fight herpes simplex is ongoing. Some reports suggest that a daily dose of 500 mg to 3,000 mg of lysine may be beneficial.
Certain strains of probiotics have been shown to help fight off 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 aren’t diluted. Carrier oils, like jojoba and coconut oil, are important for using topical ingredients safely. All of the topicals listed below should be used with a carrier oil unless otherwise noted.
You should also 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:
- Apply the topical to your forearm.
- Wait 24 hours.
- If you experience itching, inflammation, or other irritation, wash the area thoroughly and discontinue use.
- If you don’t experience any adverse symptoms within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.
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
Witch hazel has significant antiviral properties. Some people can use pure witch hazel without experiencing irritation, while others find that it stings. You should use a diluted solution if you have sensitive skin.
Goat milk contains an antiviral agent that may work against herpes simplex. You can apply goat milk directly without dilution.
Chamomile essential oil
Ginger essential oil
Thyme essential oil
Greek sage oil
Mexican oregano oil
Lemon balm extract
Combined sage and rhubarb extract
Licorice root’s active ingredient has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties make licorice extract a promising treatment for outbreaks. You can apply licorice directly without dilution.
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 without dilution.
Here are some general tips for 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.
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 provider. 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.