Managing Genital Herpes Symptoms and Outbreaks

by Charlotte Grayson, M.D. Health Professional

OK, you're in the middle of an outbreak, and you're in pain. How do you manage the uncomfortable and painful symptoms?

First, get medical treatment. Antiviral therapy reduces the severity of the symptoms and duration of the symptoms when started early in an outbreak. Beyond that, most people are on their own. Here are some ideas on things you can try at home to minimize the symptoms:

  • Keep your genital herpes sores clean and dry. Take warm baths and, after each bath, dry your sores well.

  • Try an Epsom salt bath. Throw a large handful into a warm (or cool), shallow bath and soak. This will help the sores dry up and heal.

  • Wear loose clothes that don't rub or irritate your sores. Cotton underwear is best, and don't wear pantyhose if you don't have to. Sometimes, wearing no underwear at all is the most comfortable.

  • Apply ice packs to your sores. You may find this relieves some of the swelling and discomfort.

  • Take a pain reliever. Try acetominophin, ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen. If they don't work, ask your doctor for a prescription pain killer if the outbreak is very painful.

  • Painful urination can be a problem in some people. Ask your doctor for a medication to reduce this pain, or try urinating while in a cool shower -- it sounds odd, but it may make urination less painful. And drink lots of fluids.

  • Some people say that blowing cool air from a hair dryer onto the lesions makes them burn less.

  • Apply cool tea bags every hour. Tea contains tannic acid, a compound that may have antiviral properties.

  • Apply pure aloe vera gel. It helps the itching and redness and is safe in the genital area. You can even grow the plant and just tear the leaf and apply the gel!

  • Put baking soda on the lesions. Wet a cotton ball, and add some baking soda. Dab it gently on the ulcers to coat them. This may help reduce itching and help the sores dry out. Cornstarch can do the same. (note: do NOT put a used cotton ball BACK into the baking soda or cornstarch!)

  • Domeboro powder is available at the drug store. It's a miracle agent that is often used in hospitals and nursing homes to help heal painful lesions and reduce itching. Just mix part of a packet with some water, and apply it to the sores.

Charlotte Grayson, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Charlotte Grayson, M.D.

Charlotte Grayson, M.D., is an internist in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. She is a 1995 graduate of Boston University School of Medicine. She completed her internal medicine residency in 1998 at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Previously, Dr. Grayson was Senior Medical Editor for a leading healthcare content company. She frequently speaks to the media about health, appearing on Fox News and CNN and contributing to TIME, Real Simple, Women’s Health, and WebMD magazines.