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The Facts That Determine How Long a Herpes Outbreak Lasts

A man and woman holding a light therapy device


Common misconceptions about herpes can lead to confusion about what to expect if you contract a herpes viruses.

Lots of people with herpes feel embarrassed to seek out information about their condition due to the social stigma surrounding this infection.

One of the most common questions people ask on this topic is, "How long does a herpes outbreak last?" And is there anything you can do to speed your healing time?

The Differences Between HSV-1 and HSV-2

We'll discuss two main strains of the herpes virus that affect humans: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

While both forms of the virus belong to the herpes family and have certain similarities, they also have a few key differences that are important to understand.

The biggest difference between the two herpes viruses is the location where they most often cause outbreaks. HSV-2 commonly causes genital sores, while HSV-1 more commonly causes cold sores around the mouth. (Depending on the circumstances, there can be exceptions to this.)

Both herpes viruses spread through close contact with an infected person, especially if they're experiencing an active outbreak. HSV-1 spreads mostly through activities like kissing, sharing a cup or straw, or sharing lip balm or lipstick. HSV-2, on the other hand, is classified as a sexually transmitted infection and spreads primarily through sexual contact.

There is no cure for herpes, so both strains of the virus are lifelong diseases. Outbreaks of both types also share certain triggers, such as lack of sleep, stress, poor diet, hormonal changes, menstruation and illness.

Other triggers differ between the two types of herpes. For example, chewing on the lips, harsh sunlight, or injury around the mouth can irritate the mouth and cause an oral herpes outbreak.

Similarly, irritation to the genitals caused by frequent sexual activity, irritating products, or tight clothing can trigger a genital herpes outbreak.

One thing that remains the same with either virus is the question, how long does a herpes outbreak last?

how long does a herpes outbreak last

How Long Does a Genital Herpes Outbreak Last?

Since you clicked on an article with "herpes" in the title rather than "cold sore," you're probably looking for information on genital herpes. We'll cover that information first!

The length of time a genital herpes outbreak lasts depends on many factors, but in general, the overall timeline is from one to four weeks.


Initial Outbreak of Genital Herpes

A person's first outbreak of HSV-2 tends to last longer than subsequent outbreaks. Some people develop an outbreak quickly after contracting the herpes virus, while others don't have symptoms that appear for several months or even years. Some lucky people never develop symptoms at all.

The initial episode of genital herpes also tends to be more painful than future outbreaks. Many people develop flu-like symptoms during their initial outbreak. These can include headache, fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes and tiredness.

The first outbreak of HSV-2 can last between two and four weeks.

Subsequent Genital Herpes Outbreaks

Subsequent HSV-2 outbreaks typically last about a week from onset of symptoms to complete healing of sores. People sometimes experience symptoms that warn of an impending outbreak. These include an itching, burning or tingling sensation in the genital area where the sores form.

Over time, many people say they experience fewer and less severe genital herpes outbreaks than they did after first contracting the virus, though they are still infected.

Factors That Influence Healing Time

Immune System

A compromised immune system may take longer to heal a herpes outbreak. If you have influenza or another infectious disease, you could experience a more painful outbreak for a longer period of time. Conditions such as HIV and AIDS, diabetes and leukemia can also result in prolonged and more intense outbreaks.


What you eat can play a role in healing time. Excessive alcohol, sugar and refined carbohydrates may contribute to herpes outbreaks, and a poor diet in general could keep you from healing as quickly as possible. A healthy diet supports good immune function, which is important in the healing of herpes sores.


Research has shown that persistent stress can also lead to recurrence of genital herpes outbreaks. If you experience ongoing anxiety, depression or psychological stress, trying new stress management techniques or seeking help from a professional could provide relief both mentally and physically.

Best Practices

To encourage an HSV-2 outbreak to heal as quickly as possible, follow proper hygiene and other best practices:

  • DO keep the area clean and dry.
  • DO avoid touching the sores.
  • DO wash your hands immediately after any possible contact with sores to prevent the spread of infection.
  • DO take medication as directed by your healthcare professional.
  • DO use natural treatments known to reduce discomfort and accelerate healing.
  • DO use foods and supplements known to strengthen your immune system.
  • DO use the Luminance RED on current outbreaks and in-between.
  • DON'T pick at sores since this will cause infection.
  • DON'T mix medications without your doctor's approval.
  • DON'T make choices that weaken your immune system.

How Long Does an HSV-1 Outbreak Last?

Outbreaks of cold sores around the mouth typically last between five days and two weeks. Proper care of cold sores can reduce the duration of an outbreak by several days. You can take certain actions to decrease the length of a cold sore outbreak.

Encouraging Healing of Cold Sores

Wet or Dry?

Knowing when to keep your cold sore dry and when to keep it moist is an important part of getting rid of cold sores faster.

When you first notice a tingling or itching sensation that indicates a cold sore is on its way, try to keep the area dry. The area should remain dry until after the blister bursts and scabs over with a yellow or brown crust.

You can dry a cold sore out by pressing salt against it for about 30 seconds. You can also try applying a thin layer of white toothpaste to the sore before bed.

Once a scab forms on the sore, you can use petroleum jelly to keep the scab moist.

Supplements and Compresses

Taking lysine supplements and using a cold compress can also encourage cold sores to heal more quickly. You can try traditional natural compresses such as an ice pack, which can reduce pain and inflammation, but be sure that the ice usage doesn't cause the sore to become wet. You can also try compresses of cornstarch paste.

Best Practices

One of the most important ways to combat cold sores and shorten their duration is to take action at the very first sign of an outbreak. Whether you use cold compresses, keep the area dry, or try to minimize swelling by using ice and/or ibuprofen, all of these tips will work best when used early.

Additionally, be sure to avoid touching or picking at the cold sore, which could lead to infection. It could also further injure your skin and prolong healing time.

Avoid heavily processed foods and added sugar, and instead boost your immune system with healthy choices and strategic supplements. Be sure to get enough sleep as well. 

Red Light Therapy Can Reduce Duration of Outbreaks

Red light therapy is a type of treatment proven to help reduce the duration of herpes outbreaks. Clinical research has shown that treatment with red light can shorten the healing time of herpes outbreaks even more than traditional treatments.

The Luminance RED lip sore device and genital sore device are FDA-registered medical devices that use the same kind of high-powered light that achieved such results. To spend the least amount of time with your herpes sores, try one of the Luminance RED devices with its advanced red light therapy technology.

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