There are two types of herpes virus: HSV-1 and -2.

The former is more closely associated with cold sores; whereas HSV-2 is typically the cause of genital outbreaks.

The symptoms of herpes are easily recognisable, and the tenacity of the condition is well-known. Even though the virus tends to become less severe over time, once contracted it is not possible to ‘cure’ herpes. The virus remains in a person’s system for life, usually going through periods of activity and remission.

When treating the condition, whether it is an initial occurrence or a reactivation, a doctor will usually recommend an antiviral product to reduce or limit an outbreak.

However, the best way to limit the effects of the virus once it has entered the body, perhaps, is to prevent those circumstances which might lead to a reactivation.

But what are these? And what measures can someone take to limit their effect?


Unsurprisingly, as they so often can with other conditions, stress and anxiety have been closely linked by many experts to the exacerbation of herpes; and even a major cause of reactivations.

A Canadian study from 1988 found that anxiety levels were generally higher in the 16 patients observed during the pre-outbreak period.

These results concur somewhat with another study undertaken in 1999 by scientists in California, which found that high anxiety levels were much more likely to induce an outbreak in patients during the following weeks.

However, one investigation undertaken by scientists at a London hospital in 1997, which involved 116 patients, suggested that it was more how the subjects coped with feelings of stress as opposed to stress itself which caused the recurrence.

Those who used certain ‘problem-focussed’ coping skills and positive emotional coping strategies had a lower rate of recurrence than those who did not.

The link between stress and reactivations nevertheless exists; so it is important for those who are susceptible to reactivations to effectively manage stress, and keep symptoms under control.

Weakened immune system

The immune system plays a vital role in keeping illnesses at bay. When it becomes compromised, the body becomes more susceptible to viruses of all kinds, such as influenza.

Herpes is no different.

During periods where the immune system is weakened, such as when an individual is stressed, exhausted or deprived of sleep, an outbreak is ultimately more likely. This makes it an often chronic problem for those living with a condition which suppresses the body’s defences, such as HIV.

Getting enough regular rest is vital for those living with herpes. That means not subjecting one’s self to an unendurable workload, and making sure that the recommended 6-8 hours of sleep per night is observed.

Those who are immunosuppressed due to a medical condition or specific type of treatment should consult with their doctor on how to limit the risk of herpes reactivations.

Alcohol consumption

The excessive consumption of alcohol is often linked by people with herpes to recurrent outbreaks, due to its tendency to compromise the function of the immune system.

One US study which measured the effects of binge-drinking on the production of immune cells suggested that it is harder for the body to fight off both new and latent infections during recovery.

With these findings in consideration, it appears to be even more crucial for those who are susceptible to herpes outbreaks to stay within reasonable alcohol limits.

The NHS recommends no more than 2-3 units a day on a regular basis, and also that alcohol should be avoided for at least 48 hours after a particularly heavy incidence of consumption.

Ultraviolet light exposure

Spending too long in the sun has also been found to induce further recurrences of herpes.

Research conducted in 1994 at a medical centre in Florida investigated the incidence of herpes labialis outbreaks in patients whose skin was both UVB-R (ultraviolet-B resistant) and UVB-S (ultraviolet-B susceptible).

Of the UVB-R patients, no increase in symptoms was recorded following exposure; but recurrent lesions did present in three quarters of UVB-S patients who were exposed.

One other study[6] found that use of aciclovir was an effective preventative method for those with HSV-2 exposed to UV-rays. In the test sample of 36 with the placebo and 38 with the treatment, respective totals of 13 and three experienced recurrences.

Having a Solution Ready

Although it is not possible to cure herpes, it is easy to effectively manage in the majority of cases. Keeping symptoms under control is all about being prepared, and tackling an outbreak before it can fully manifest.

Find out more about the herpes treatments on offer by consulting our condition and product pages, or speaking to your doctor.

Categorized in:

Sexual Health,

Last Update: 21 March 2024