How long does a herpes outbreak last? Learn how long the healing time is and what you can do to make it more manageable.
Both oral and genital herpes are highly contagious and prevalent throughout the world. Most adults have had some exposure to oral herpes and are likely to carry the virus, even if asymptomatic.
While herpes is a lifelong virus, its symptoms are fairly short-lived. This guide will cover everything you need to know about how long a herpes outbreak lasts.
Oral and genital herpes outbreaks both last anywhere between one to three weeks. The first outbreak is usually the longest.
The most common symptoms of herpes are sores. Other commons symptoms include pain, tingling, and lethargy.
Antiviral medication can help reduce the pain and swelling caused by an outbreak.
We’ll also discuss what you can do to treat it and prevent it from spreading.
Both oral and genital herpes can cause outbreaks that last anywhere from 7-10 days to up to three weeks in some cases.
In many instances, a person’s first herpes outbreak will often be one of the most painful and long lasting ones.
However, this is not always the case, and it often comes down to individual factors as to how one responds to the virus.
Plus, there are many asymptomatic carriers who are infected with herpes, but never actually show symptoms.
It’s believed that up to 80% of adults have oral herpes, yet not everyone will experience an outbreak during their lifetime.
Unfortunately, these people can still be infectious as the virus may lightly shed even without any noticeable symptoms.
There are two types of herpes simplex virus:
Both types of herpes are spread through skin-to-skin contact, where the virus can then infect someone else.
Both saliva and bodily fluids can also transmit herpes provided it comes from the infected area.
For oral herpes, closed-mouth and open-mouth kissing can spread the virus. If a person has oral herpes and performs oral sex, they can also spread the virus to another person’s genitals.
Although less common, an HSV-1 infection is possible on the genitals, and even the eyes among other areas. For genital herpes, the virus is usually spread through three possible ways:
Both types of herpes can spread without any visible symptoms present, as the virus may be lightly shedding at various times throughout the year.
However, the virus sheds the most when there is an active outbreak, which will often present itself with painful sores and blisters.
It’s at this point when the virus is most contagious. Any sexual contact with a person who has an active outbreak is not recommended.
The first outbreak of oral herpes will usually occur within 1-3 weeks after infection.
For genital herpes, the first outbreak often comes sooner with an average of 2-20 days after infection.
In both cases, the initial outbreak may be more severe and longer-lasting than future ones. It may last for several weeks as the symptoms slowly subside.
However, some people may not even present symptoms until years after their infection.
Anything from a common cold to stress can activate a herpes outbreak, which can often make it difficult to tell when a person was infected.
One of the most common oral herpes symptoms are open sores along the lips or corner of the mouth.
These sores can often be painful, and they may discharge before crusting over during the healing process.
Some less visible symptoms of oral herpes include:
Genital herpes often presents in the same way, although the sores and discomfort will be primarily located on the genitals or thighs.
In terms of outbreak symptoms and durations, both oral and genital herpes are quite similar. However, the location of the outbreak is what sets them apart.
Oral herpes generally presents itself on the corners of the mouth along the lip and closely surrounding areas.
In some cases, blisters may also appear on the inside of the mouth, although the lips and mouth corners are the most commonly affected areas.
Genital herpes generally affects the genitals, although it can be more far-reaching than oral herpes in some cases.
If affected with genital herpes, both men and women may experience sores on the:
Men may experience symptoms on the:
Women may experience symptoms in the:
Both versions of the herpes simplex virus can affect the genitals and mouth. Unless a person gets professionally tested, there’s no way to know whether one is infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2.
Since the symptoms are usually the same, testing is generally not required as the treatment recommendations don’t change between virus subtypes.
An oral or genital herpes outbreak is often quite painful and distressing, but there are ways to manage the symptoms and help ease the discomfort.
For both types of herpes, you can try the following to temporarily relieve any pain or discomfort:
Another common concern people have about oral herpes is their appearance. While there’s not much that can be done to hide an active cold sore, it’s important to remember that oral herpes is incredibly common.
While it may feel somewhat embarrassing, it’s also something that many people around you will have experienced themselves at some point as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for herpes. But there are a number of treatment options that can help to manage the symptoms and reduce the duration of infection.
The most common type of herpes medication is an antiviral, either as a cream or as a pill.
Most topical antivirals are available over-the-counter, and they can be applied to the affected areas to help reduce the pain and swelling, and encourage recovery.
However, most oral antivirals are prescription-only. In many cases, doctors will prescribe them to you if you’re suffering from a particularly painful outbreak, or are prone to more frequent outbreaks.
Antiviral pills are often prescribed for two weeks. In very rare cases, some people may take them daily for longer periods if they have a high frequency of outbreaks.
Herpes can spread even when a person is fully asymptomatic; however, the virus is most contagious when there are herpes symptoms present.
Cold sores allow the virus to shed excessively, making this the most contagious period of the virus. If there are no symptoms present, the virus may still shed, although at a much lower rate.
Some ways to prevent transmitting or receiving herpes include:
Herpes outbreaks can be uncomfortable, but for most people, most symptoms will reside within two weeks.
Antiviral creams can help in treating symptoms, and antiviral pills may be given for those with more painful or frequent outbreaks as well.
Lorals for Protection can also help keep partners protected from spreading herpes to one another.
By following the tips in this guide, you can minimize the duration and severity of herpes outbreak symptoms, and reduce the risk of transmitting it in the future.
Our team has over a decade of experience in the sexual wellness field and are experts in sexual dysfunctions, like premature ejaculation. We help couples and individuals better understand treatment options available for different types of sexual needs and educate the public on all things related to intimacy. All of our authored content is medically reviewed for accuracy and reliability.
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