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How Long does a Herpes Outbreak Last?

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How Long Does a Herpes Outbreak Last?

writtenByWritten by: Dr. Anna E. Pickering
Dr. Anna E. Pickering

Dr. Anna E. Pickering

Medically reviewed by Dr Anna Pickering, PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology. Postdoctoral fellowship at Oregon Health & Science University. Anna grew up in Oregon & has a love for science and writing.

Read more posts by this author.

December 10, 2020 Read Time - 5 minutes

From the onset of initial symptoms, herpes takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks to go away with proper treatment.

Every case of herpes is different depending on the person. There are many factors that can alter the amount of time it takes a herpes outbreak to clear. Some of these include:

  • What type of herpes—HSV-1 or HSV-2 you are suffering from
  • How many herpes outbreaks you’ve had in the past
  • How frequent your herpes outbreaks are
  • If you are taking preventative antiviral medication or using suppressive therapy
  • If you have already started treatment for this outbreak

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How Long Does an Oral Herpes Outbreak Last?

HSV-1, also known as oral herpes is very common and affects 2 out of 3 people globally. In many cases, the virus remains dormant and you may never even know you have it.

But when an outbreak does occur it is best to know the signs and symptoms right away so you can get tested, and get treatment.

Oral herpes outbreaks come in the form of cold sores.

There are several stages of HSV-1:

Stage 1: Prodrome –HSV-1 comes in contact with your skin and lips, causing reddening and a tingling sensation. After 1-2 days, the affected area may feel irritated, itchy and painful.

Stage 2: Swelling and Inflammation – The affected area becomes swollen, and inflamed

Stage 3: Formation of Blisters – Red, white, or clear, fluid filled blisters and/or cold sores begin to form. They last about 2 days and appear in a cluster as a single sore that is painful or sensitive to the touch.

Stage 4: Ulceration – After a day or two, the sores may burst, releasing fluid and becoming more painful. This generally subsides after about a day.

Stage 5: Scabbing or Crusting – As the sores begin to heal there may be crust that develops over the burst blister and forms a scab. After 2-3 days, new skin begins to form.

Stage 6: Healing – The scab that formed over the blister will start to heal. Do not peel the scab off until the wound is completely healed to avoid getting a scar.

While the stages of an oral herpes outbreak vary in time the process can take several weeks.

It is recommended you talk to a doctor to discuss which treatment plan can help you prevent and recover from an outbreak.


Read: Is There a Cure For Herpes?

How Long Does a Genital Herpes Outbreak Last?

Genital herpes, also known as HSV-2 typically affects the genitals. It is typically spread through sexual contact

There are also several stages to a genital herpes outbreak:

Stage 1: Prodrome – This stage is highly contagious. Pain, tingling or itching may begin as HSV-2 activates inside the skin.

Stage 2: Skin Redness – The skin may turn red and become sensitive. This lasts 1-4 days.

Stage 3: Lesion Formation – Lesions and sores will begin to appear around the anus or genitals. They will fill with fluid and may become very painful. The sores will last for 2-6 days.

Stage 4: Development of Lesions – This stage is the most contagious. The lesions or sores will continue to grow and eventually burst releasing the buildup of fluid. The sore may stay open and runny for 1-4 days.

Stage 5: Scabbing – After the fluid drains from the sores, they will dry out and scab for a few days.

Stage 6: Healing – The sores heal when the scabs fall off. Sometimes, a scab doesn’t develop, and the sores will just fade away. This process takes about 3-7 days.

Read: Home Remedies For Herpes

What Does a Herpes Outbreak Feel Like

As mentioned above, the onset of a herpes outbreak is often associated with tingling, itching, or burning around the affected area.

Blisters and ulcers are unfortunately painful and can cause discomfort.

If this is your first outbreak your symptoms will likely be worse than any recurring outbreaks. Common symptoms associated with initial outbreaks are fever, headache, and other flu-like symptoms.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


Where Can You Get Herpes Sores?

What does herpes look like on a male?

  • penis
  • scrotum
  • groin and thighs
  • buttocks
  • around the anus

What does herpes look like on a female?

  • labia
  • inside the vagina
  • groin, thighs
  • on the buttocks and around the anus

Oral Herpes

  • mouth
  • throat
  • tongue
  • on or around the lips

How Do You Get Rid of a Herpes Outbreak Fast

The most effective treatment method is prescription medication from a doctor. This can be in the form of topical cream or an oral medication.

If you suspect you have herpes and would like to speak to a physician and/or get tested and treated online, book an appointment with a PlushCare doctor now.

Read: How Do Online Doctor Visits Work?

We accept insurance and appointments are available every 15 minutes. Our doctors can order lab tests for a herpes test and diagnose you based on the results.

If you have already been diagnosed with herpes they can prescribe you a treatment plan, including any necessary medications.

What causes recurrent herpes outbreaks?

Triggers for recurrent outbreaks include illness, poor diet, stress, sunlight, fatigue, and menstrual periods. Additionally, friction in the genital area, surgical trauma, and steroidal medication may trigger a herpes outbreak.

Can you get a herpes outbreak right after another? How do you know if you’re having a second herpes outbreak?

People with symptomatic HSV-1 may experience several outbreaks per year. The herpes virus takes up permanent residence in the nerve roots and can never be totally eliminated. Some people will experience a second crop of lesions, bumps, and itchiness however, general feelings of being unwell are not usually present with recurring infections.

How long does a second herpes outbreak last?

Most people who experience recurrent outbreaks experience them for shorter periods of time than the initial infection. During this second outbreak, though you may be asymptomatic, you are still capable of transmitting the virus to another partner.

How did I get herpes if my partner doesn’t have it? How do I know who gave me herpes?

One possibility is that you have had herpes for a long time and only recently were diagnosed. It can be very hard to determine when herpes was contracted, and many people carry it asymptomatically. The only way to determine who gave you herpes is to be diagnosed right after having oral or penetrative sex with someone for the first time.

What can be mistaken for herpes? Can herpes be just one bump?

Common conditions easily mistaken for herpes include yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, syphilis, urinary tract infection, and common acne. Herpes may present as one single sore, though it is most commonly a small patch of red or white bumps around the mouth or genitals.

Can a herpes outbreak last months? Why does my herpes never go away?

Typically, herpes outbreak are resolved in 2 to 3 weeks, though sores may take up to 4 weeks to heal. In severe cases, such as for those who are immunocompromised, herpes may take months to completely disappear. It is important to not that herpes never truly goes away, as the virus remain dormant in your body even when outbreaks are not present.

What can trigger herpes outbreaks? What foods trigger herpes outbreaks?

It’s not known what exactly triggers herpes outbreaks. Flare-ups are commonly associated with sickness, poor diet, emotional or physical stress, sexual activity, and prolonged exposure to sunlight. Some people have found avoiding foods high in the amino acid Arginine reduces the likelihood of a herpes outbreak. Arginine is commonly found in chocolate and many types of nuts. Excessive caffeine, red wine, and smoking may also be triggers to avoid.

Read more about herpes:


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Center for Disease Control. Genital Herpes CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). Accessed September 20, 2018 at Herpes Signs and Symptoms. Accessed February 14, 2021 at What About Diet and Herpes? Accessed July 18, 2020 at,also%20triggers%20for%20some%20people.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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