How to get through your first outbreak of genital herpes

30th May 2019

Being diagnosed with genital herpes and experiencing your first outbreak can be a worrying time, but the best thing to do is to learn more about it and read all about what you can expect when you notice symptoms of the infection for the first time.

What to expect

If you’ve contracted genital herpes then you’ll likely start to notice symptoms 2-20 days afterwards, however, some people can have herpes for a long time without showing symptoms.

If and when symptoms do appear, the most common one is genital sores. This may begin as a tingling or itching sensation in the genitals, which will then turn into clusters of small blisters around the vulva, vagina, penis, anus or the inside of your thighs. These small blisters are normally red, very painful and filled with liquid (often a yellowish colour). They will then burst open and turn into sores that will eventually scab over and heal.

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Along with the sores, you may notice a number of other symptoms that are similar to a cold or the flu (given that herpes is caused by a virus). This could include a fever, feeling sick and having aches and pains. It can also be extremely painful to urinate, due to any open sores or sores that are blocking the urinary tract.

Is there a cure?

Because genital herpes is caused by a virus, there is currently no cure and the virus will remain in your body forever. This is why sufferers experience what’s known as ‘outbreaks’ where the virus resurfaces and causes recurrent symptoms.

Although there’s no cure and antibiotics will not help, that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. There are antiviral medications available, such as Aciclovir and Valaciclovir, to help to suppress the virus and help symptoms to clear quicker.

How to get through your first outbreak

When you notice symptoms of an outbreak for the very first time, it can be worrying and unnerving. The most important thing to remember is that while this outbreak can last 2-4 weeks, it’s always the most severe and subsequent outbreaks won’t be as bad or as long. Additionally, some people never really have further outbreaks and many people only have 1 or 2 a year.

The first outbreak can be very painful and can make urinating very sore, especially if urine runs over sores that are open. Your first port of call should be to try over-the-counter painkillers such as Ibuprofen or Aspirin, to help to relieve some of the discomfort. In addition to these, you could also try a topical anaesthetic cream, like Lidocaine, to numb sensation in the area.

On a day-to-day basis, it’s important to upkeep a high level of hygiene. Bathe regularly to avoid any open sores getting infected and try not to touch the sores; if you do then make sure you wash your hands well afterwards. If you find that towelling dry after a bath or shower is too painful then you could try drying the area with a hairdryer.

While suffering with genital herpes, avoid wearing any tight clothing or those made from synthetic fabrics; opt for loose, cotton choices (including underwear).

You could also try some at-home remedies to ease the pain and help with healing. Keeping the area dry is important in promoting healing so applying a little powder (such as baking soda or cornstarch) can aid this. You could also try holding a cold, soaked teabag on the sores, as black tea contains tannic acid that has antiviral properties. To soothe the sores and generally help with the pain, try some ice (wrapped in a cloth, never pressed against bare skin) or aloe vera.

What happens next?

Once all of your sores have healed (which can sometimes take up to 4 weeks), you can go about your normal life again. But when it comes to your sex life, it’s important that you practise safe sex to help to prevent the spread of genital herpes. Even when you have no visible sores, you can still pass the infection on and although condoms aren’t guaranteed to protect against this, they still reduce the risk.

Although people who contract genital herpes often feel that their sex life is over, thanks to the taboo surrounding the disease, this is simply not the case. While you’ll have to be more cautious and make sure to refrain from sex while you’re in the middle of any outbreaks, you can still have a fulfilling sex life. The key thing is open communication with your partner (be it a current, new or casual one).