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How to handle a herpes outbreak on vacation
Written by Carrie Murphy, Doula Mar 29, 2023
Have you ever headed out on an amazing trip, ready for fun and relaxation—just to be confronted with an itchy, painful outbreak of genital herpes? Yeah, us too. Whether it’s a beach trip, a weekend at a cozy cabin, or an epic European adventure, dealing with an outbreak of herpes on vacation is the opposite of fun.
Experiencing a herpes outbreak when you’re on vacation isn’t uncommon. This is because your body is under more stress in general (yes, even though the vacation is meant to be relaxing, things like travel, a different diet, and sunlight exposure can all cause stress on the body). And where the stress occurs, herpes outbreaks can follow.
Here’s why genital herpes symptoms happen, how you can prevent an outbreak, and what to do if you get a herpes outbreak while you’re traveling.
What causes a herpes outbreak on vacation?
There are a few factors that can be causing your vacation herpes outbreak. These are called herpes triggers. Triggers can be different for everyone, which is why it’s key that you pay close attention to your own body to learn what your herpes triggers are. Still, a few common things can trigger a genital herpes outbreak, especially when you’re on a trip or a vacation.
One? Sunlight. Yes, that Vitamin D-giving light that feels so good at the beach or pool can trigger a herpes outbreak. Research indicates that sunlight exposure can trigger an outbreak of HSV-1 (oral herpes), but there are many anecdotal stories of people experiencing it for genital herpes, as well.
Lack of sleep can also contribute to the development of a genital herpes outbreak when you’re traveling. Uncomfortable hotel pillows, loud neighbors, or a cramped neck from sleeping in the car can all mean you’re not getting the rest your body needs—and that can allow the herpes virus to activate in your body and cause symptoms.
Taking a trip is often an occasion to eat different foods than you usually do. While we fully support being adventurous while eating abroad, the truth is that what you eat can also contribute to developing a herpes outbreak. Foods high in the amino acid arginine are known to be a herpes trigger for many people. Foods with high levels of arginine include nuts, seeds, dairy, chicken, and crab.
Another reason? Stress! Even though you may have traveled on vacation for some R&R, it’s still a bit of a stressor on your body and mind. A 2009 meta-analysis found that psychosocial stress (like all the plans that go into a vacation) can sometimes cause a herpes outbreak. Persistent stress is also linked to herpes outbreaks. A 2011 article in the Brain, Behavior, and Immunity journal suggests that daily stress, depression, and anxiety are also outbreak triggers.
If you picked up a cold at the airport, that could also contribute to experiencing herpes lesions on your vagina or anus. Although it’s oral herpes that commonly causes cold sores, many people find that a sneezy, sniffly sickness goes hand-in-hand with an outbreak down in the V, too.
Lastly, if you’re having more frequent sex (specifically intercourse, rather than oral or other kinds of sexual contact) while out of town, this can also lead to an outbreak. The friction of intercourse can cause an outbreak. If you do get an outbreak, this is probably the time to cease sexual activity, as you’re most contagious when you have herpes sores—and because the more sex you have, the more irritated the outbreak and the more symptoms you might experience!
Most likely, it’s not just one of these factors causing your herpes outbreak. It’s likely a combination of factors: poor sleep, combined with stress, combined with extra sunlight exposure, for example.
Can you still swim and do other fun activities with an outbreak?
Don’t worry—swimming (in both pools and the ocean) is completely fine when you have an outbreak. You can still head to the pool for a hangout or spend the morning splashing in the waves. Herpes is not passed through the water, and no one hanging out with you poolside or on the beach can catch the infection. And nope — borrowing a swimsuit from a friend doesn’t mean they’ll catch herpes from you, either (or vice versa!) Herpes cannot live outside of the body.
You may find, though, that the chlorine or salt water is irritating to the infection. There’s not much data on whether or not chlorine causes genital herpes outbreaks, but one small case study found that a man who often swam in chlorinated pools got oral herpes frequently and that the chlorine in the pools was linked to his outbreaks. Again, this was specifically regarding oral herpes, but because the viruses are closely related, swimming in chlorine may be a factor in triggering outbreaks of genital herpes, too.
You’re free to do anything else fun, though. Don’t let your outbreak limit you!
Tips and tricks to prevent an outbreak
First and foremost, one of the best things you can do to prevent a genital herpes outbreak when you’re on vacation is to pack your antiviral medication! Whether you’re on acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir, make sure your pills are packed tight in your suitcase. This will help your body begin to fight off the reactivation of the virus and can cut symptoms like itching, burning, and painful weeping sores short.
You can also consider bringing along one of our FemiClear herpes products. Feminine wash helps soothe the area when symptoms occur, as do our gentle, relieving over-the-counter ointments like our multi symptom relief or the ointment specifically made for itching and tingling symptoms.
It may also make sense to strengthen your immune system before you leave for the trip, something you can do with our Immunity & Stress Support supplement. We designed this product as an extra layer of support to help prevent outbreaks. Drink it on the regular before your trip and pack some in your suitcase, too. Made with ashwagandha (a well-known adaptogen, a plant that helps your body’s stress response) and vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc (for immune support), it’s formulated to give your body a much-needed boost.
Get plenty of rest! It’s common to want to push yourself when you’re in a new place—after all, who doesn’t want to have fun and explore? But prioritizing sleep and rest, even just a bit of downtime each day, can help keep those itchy outbreaks at bay.
You should be doing this anyway, but wearing sunscreen is another way to avoid an outbreak! Some research has linked the blockage of UV light provided by sunscreen to herpes outbreak prevention. So that’s another top-notch reason to protect your skin during your vacation.
Outbreak ahoy—how to handle a genital herpes outbreak on vacation
First things first—don’t flip out! While it isn’t ideal to have an outbreak while you’re on vacation, it’s also not the end of the world. You can still enjoy so much of what you planned and anticipated—swimming, hiking, enjoying historical sites, eating out, and relaxing by the pool.
If you do get an outbreak, take your antiviral medication immediately. This can help your body start to fight and lessen symptoms.
If you packed a FemiClear product in your bag, more power to you! Start using it and carry on. If not, get yourself to the closest drugstore (like Walgreens) and pick up one of our herpes products, like our feminine wash (formulated with herpes-fighting lysine and lemon balm), our multi symptom relief topical ointment, or our ointment for the relief of itching and tingling symptoms. We’re proud that our natural, organic products are widely available so people with herpes can get relief, no matter where they may be.
It’s also a good idea to prioritize rest if you have an outbreak while on vacation. We know you don’t want to slow down on sightseeing or otherwise having fun but do think of ways you can include a bit more rest in your days. We suggest a daily afternoon nap or heading to bed a bit earlier than planned. If you feel comfortable, talk with your travel companions about the fact that you’re having an outbreak and see if there’s a way you can both agree to slow down a bit…. while still having the full vacation experience.
Above all, it’s important to understand your herpes triggers and do what you can to mitigate them before, during, and after vacation. Learn what causes symptoms for you, so you can try to prevent an outbreak before it starts.
You may not be able to control the stress you feel when your plane is delayed or the lack of sleep you experience if your room is next to a group of spring breakers who party all night, but you can arm yourself with the tools and tricks to help both prevent and soothe herpes outbreaks when you’re traveling. Here’s to your happy, healthy life—wherever it may take you!
Written by Carrie Murphy, Doula Mar 29, 2023
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