Receiving a herpes diagnosis can trigger all sorts of feelings, from shame to guilt to anger to confusion to frustration to a mix of all of the above. This sexually transmitted infection can’t be cured, a fact that often sends those with a diagnosis into despair. You might ask yourself, “How did this happen to me? What will people think? How will I live?”
“To counteract this spiral, it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge so that you know exactly what you’re dealing with,” explains Dr. Jessica Shepherd, a gynecologist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. The first step is to understand that herpes is incredibly common — 1 in 6 women in the U.S. have it, according to the CDC, and even that number is likely low because the condition is often under-diagnosed.
Genital herpes can be caused by two kinds of herpes simplex viruses — the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is primarily spread through oral sex, while HSV-2 can be transmitted during sex or through contact with genital surfaces, skin, sores, or fluids of someone infected with the virus, according to WHO. But the virus can go undetected if you don’t have herpes outbreak symptoms — meaning it’s a lot more common than you may realize. “When my patients get diagnosed with herpes, their first feelings are often guilt and blame,” Dr. Shepherd explains. “To sidestep that, I help them understand just how widespread it is.”
Shepherd advises her patients to help them find reassurance: While herpes isn’t curable, there are incredibly effective ways to manage your symptoms so you can live a happy and healthy life, just as you planned. “The goal when you contract a virus is not necessarily to cure it, but to pay attention to your symptoms and try to address them to minimize pain,” she says.
The most effective way to treat a herpes outbreak — which often feels like an itching, burning, or tingly sensation on your genitals — is to use a prescription antiviral medication. But that’s not all you can do. It’s also important to supplement your Rx with other solutions to help minimize your discomfort. Here are some suggestions, according to Dr. Shepherd:
- Minimize stress. Of course, this is easier said than done — life can be stressful! But as much as stress is a part of our daily lives, to manage herpes outbreaks, it’s important to try to steady your emotions as best as you can, Dr. Shepherd advises. That’s because there is often a direct correlation between stress and herpes outbreaks, and the more stressed you are, the longer an outbreak may last.
“Stress increases your levels of [the stress hormone] cortisol, which increases inflammation and requires your body to work to decrease that inflammation,” she explains. “Viruses are impacted by how well the immune system is able to suppress them, so when your immune system is focusing on decreasing your inflammation rather than suppressing the virus, it allows the virus to become more present.” Her advice: Incorporate de-stressing techniques into your daily life. Yoga, meditation, breathwork, and spending time in nature are all great options.
- Try FemiClear®, a new OTC symptom-relief ointment for genital herpes. As of September, 2020 FemiClear is available in the personal intimacy aisle in CVS stores across the country, but can also be ordered online at CVS.com, Target.com, and Amazon.com). Used in addition to your existing prescription antiviral medication, FemiClear has been shown to kill 99.9 percent of the herpes simplex I and II viruses in in vitro lab testing. And it’s also been shown to reduce the itching, burning, and pain of outbreaks in more than 90 percent of women who tried it. Made from all-natural and organic ingredients, it’s also a great option for those looking to avoid toxic chemicals. In fact, the all-natural ingredients play a key role in its overall effectiveness.
FemiClear uses a proprietary process to oxygenate olive oil and then adds lemongrass, ultimately creating high antiviral properties. “These properties can somewhat decrease and halt the replication of the virus,” Dr. Shepherd explains. “And if you can decrease the virulence of the actual virus, then your symptoms will be less.” Simply put, FemiClear can help you manage outbreak symptoms so you can go back to being you.
- Understand your pre-outbreak symptoms. The best way to manage a herpes outbreak is to start treatment as soon as you feel an outbreak coming on. That’s why it’s crucial to pay close attention to the signs and symptoms of herpes outbreaks so that you’ll know when to start medicating. You should also stop having sex until the outbreak is over, advises Dr. Shepherd. “Some people might have swollen pelvic nodes a few days before an outbreak, or a tingling burning sensation in the pelvic area, or maybe some chills and a low-grade temperature,” she explains. Whatever your first symptoms of herpes are, they’ll tend to be the same every time — take note so that you can take action ASAP. “Acting as soon as you can shortens the outbreak overall, so try to pay attention as best you can,” Dr. Shepherd says.
- Remember that herpes outbreaks get less severe over time. This is more of a mental strategy than anything else, but you may find it helpful to remind yourself that your condition will get better as life goes on, not worse. Like many viruses, the initial outbreak is often the most severe — but through the years, outbreaks may become much milder. “This is because viruses are virulent when they’re first contracted, but over time, your immune system knows how to suppress it better,” Dr. Shepherd explains. “It’s like, ‘Okay, we’ve been through this before. We know what to do.’” While this may not help you feel better physically during an outbreak, it could help your outlook tremendously — which can bring relief in its own way, too.