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What to know about STD treatment online

Medically reviewed on January 4, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Table of contents


Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are incredibly common conditions. In fact, nearly half of US adults will contract an STD in their lifetime [1]. However, the cultural stigma of STDs may prevent you from seeking treatment. Luckily, it’s never been easier to care for your sexual health—thanks to virtual care visits and online STD treatment.

If you suspect you have an STD, you may be able to diagnose and even treat your condition without visiting your healthcare provider in person. That said, online treatment is not a cure-all. Let’s explore the world of online STD treatment options, including treatable conditions and steps to take.

Can I treat an STD without a visit to a healthcare provider?

No matter your condition, it’s important to receive care as soon as possible for STDs. The faster you can diagnose and treat any sexually transmitted disease, the better you can avoid long-term health risks like infertility issues, ectopic pregnancies, or pelvic inflammatory disease [2].

Fortunately, online treatment is a safe, affordable, and efficient option for many STDs.

If you’re interested in skipping in-person visits, these particular STDs are good candidates for online STD treatment options.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common and permanent viral STD, caused by either the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus. Once contracted, herpes will stay alive in a person’s immune system for life, whether active (with symptoms) or dormant (without symptoms) [3].

Not all genital herpes cases have symptoms. However, up to 35% of herpes patients will experience STI symptoms like these at least once:

  • Genital blisters or sores, particularly during the first outbreak
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

About 89% of symptomatic genital herpes cases will experience repeated outbreaks—periods during which the virus becomes active again in the body [4]. Luckily, these outbreaks tend to be less severe.

To treat any outbreaks or STI symptoms, you can receive antiviral medications and topical treatments online or through your healthcare provider.

Trichomoniasis

This parasitic STD is more common in women, spreading through the lower genital tract or urethra [5]. While 70% of trichomoniasis patients have no STD symptoms, other cases may experience genital symptoms like [5]:

  • Itching or irritation
  • Burning during urination
  • Discharge from the penis or vagina (particularly white, yellow, or green)
  • Redness or soreness

Luckily, trichomoniasis is a highly curable STD—even from your home. Once diagnosed, you can receive antibiotics online to rid of this infection safely and permanently.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most reported bacterial STD in the United States, infecting more women than men [6]. Most cases are asymptomatic, but symptomatic cases can develop in the genitals or anus.

If you’re infected with chlamydia, you may experience [6]:

  • Discharge from the penis, vagina, or rectum (often with an odor)
  • Burning during urination
  • Pain or swelling in the testicles
  • Rectal pain or bleeding
  • Unusual genital sores

Even if asymptomatic, chlamydia can lead to genital health issues if left untreated. Women are especially at risk for issues like scar tissue in the fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancies, or infertility [6].

That’s why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that sexually active women test for chlamydia every year, regardless of symptoms. If diagnosed, you can receive antibiotics online or in person for chlamydia treatment [6].

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is another bacterial STD that can develop in the genitals or rectal area. About half of cases are asymptomatic, while the other half of gonorrhea cases may develop [7]:

  • Genital itching
  • Discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Pain in the genital area
  • Excessive vaginal bleeding
  • Pain or swelling in the testicles

Fortunately, gonorrhea is easily curable through antibiotics. You can also get gonorrhea treatment online or in person from a medical professional.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a less common but more complicated bacterial STD. While it’s spreadable through sexual contact, you can also contract syphilis through non-sexual contact (such as touching doorknobs or sharing a pool) or through maternal infection (when a pregnant mother passes a disease to her baby).

Depending on its severity, symptomatic syphilis can advance through four different stages [8]:

  • Primary – At this initial stage, firm but painless sores appear on the genitals or infection site. These sores may resolve on their own within weeks, even though the syphilis bacteria are still present.
  • Secondary – Without treatment, syphilis may progress to rashes around the infection site or other areas of the body. These red and rough rashes can also show up during the primary stage as well. You may also develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, swollen glands, or a sore throat.
  • Latent – In some cases, symptomatic cases of syphilis will enter a dormant period. While no STD symptoms are present, the infection is still a threat.
  • Tertiary – If left untreated for years, severe cases of syphilis can infect your organs. This can include the heart, brain, and nervous system.

While operating similarly to a virus, syphilis is curable with antibiotics. If you suspect that you have syphilis, it’s important to receive an immediate diagnosis and treatment either online or in person.

When should I visit a healthcare provider for an STD?

Online treatment is a convenient solution for non-urgent medical cases—but it’s not always the best solution. In-person care is necessary for any life-threatening, debilitating, or high-risk sexually transmitted disease.

Consider if these factors may require you to visit a healthcare professional for proper STD treatment.

High-risk STDs

While some STDs are safe to treat at home, others need an expert’s eye and attention. Even if you can receive some form of online treatment for these STDs, their high health risks are worth visiting your healthcare provider:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – Also known as genital warts, HPV is the most common family of STDs [9]. However, about 90% of HPV cases have no symptoms and resolve on their own within two years [10]. For the other 10% with symptoms, the greatest risk comes from untreated HPV turning cancerous. A healthcare professional can inspect any genital warts during an in person visit to rule out the risk of cancer and provide the right prescription medications.
  • Hepatitis B – Hepatitis B is an acute or chronic viral infection of the liver, passed through sexual activity or other activities that involve sharing blood (such as needles and maternal infection) [11]. While up to 70% of cases are asymptomatic, hepatitis B can be incredibly risky to your health and can lead to jaundice or even death if untreated. Consulting with a healthcare provider during an in-person visit can provide you with the best antiviral treatment to prevent any health risks.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – HIV is incurable and potentially life-threatening, as it is a virus that weakens the immune system. If you develop flu-like symptoms a few weeks after a potential infection, it’s vital you see a healthcare provider [12]. The earlier you can determine a diagnosis and receive antiviral treatment, the better you can prevent HIV from developing into AIDS, which can be fatal [12].

Severe or developing symptoms

When in doubt, let your symptoms guide the way. Suddenly severe or worsening symptoms may signal that an infection has grown stronger, requiring in-person medical care.

Consider scheduling a visit with your healthcare provider if you notice these developments [13]:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • New sores or bumps post-treatment
  • New rashes post-treatment
  • High fever (over 102°F)
  • Pain during everyday activities
  • Severe or sudden weakness
  • Suddenly swollen lymph nodes
  • Worse symptoms following medication or treatment

How can I treat an STD online?

Sometimes, a visit to your healthcare provider is more of a burden than a help. If driving to the clinic would put pressure on your schedule or wallet, then online treatment may be right for your lifestyle—even for certain STDs.

In our digitized world, online medical care is growing more affordable and available, and there are many online STD treatment options that can help you save your time and money:

  • Home tests – Worried about the cost of telehealth for STDs? It’s never been easier to test for STDs outside of a healthcare provider’s office. While not all STDs are treatable online, accurate home tests are available for nearly every condition, from gonorrhea to HIV. In fact, research shows that home testing kits boost accurate diagnoses while lowering medical costs [14]. Ordering these tests online can save you a trip to your healthcare provider, unless in-person treatment is necessary.
  • Telemedicine – Have you ever wanted a healthcare provider’s personal advice—without having to make a visit to a healthcare facility? You can achieve this through virtual care visits, or telemedicine. However, what is a virtual appointment like? Telemedicine allows licensed medical professionals to diagnose and treat conditions through digital means, such as phones, video chats, or website portals [15]. By cutting out facility fees and in-person hours, you can save significant money and time without sacrificing professional guidance.
  • Prescriptions – From antibiotics to antivirals, medication is a common part of nearly every STD treatment plan. Once you receive a prescription, you can refill your medication online to save money and time. In fact, some online pharmacies deliver prescriptions right to your home. However, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions exactly—otherwise, the medication may not be effective.

Stay protected with Everlywell

If you are sexually active, consider STD testing and care as part of your healthcare routine. The more easily you can diagnose and treat STDs, the better you can protect your health. Everlywell offers a variety of at-home STD testing options.

Also consider booking an appointment for Everlywell's online STD treatment option. If you think you may have been exposed to an STI or have questions about your sexual health, you can make a same-day video appointment with a clinician who can start you on your path to a diagnosis and treatment.

How to get gonorrhea treatment online

Treating chlamydia via telehealth: online chlamydia treatment

What is a virtual appointment?


References

  1. Muñana C, Frederiksen B, Weigel G, Ranji U, 2020. Public Knowledge and Attitudes About Sexually Transmitted Infections: KFF Polling and Policy Insights. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Published February 18, 2020. URL
  2. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Sexually Transmitted Diseases | NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Nih.gov. Published 2015. URL
  3. Herpes Simplex Clinical Presentation: History, Physical, Causes. Medscape.com. Published June 24, 2019. URL
  4. Benedetti J. Recurrence Rates in Genital Herpes after Symptomatic First-Episode Infection. Annals of Internal Medicine. 1994;121(11):847. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-121-11-199412010-00004
  5. STD facts - trichomoniasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published 2019. URL
  6. STD facts - chlamydia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published April 12, 2022. URL
  7. Martín-Sánchez M, Fairley CK, Ong JJ, et al. Clinical presentation of asymptomatic and symptomatic women who tested positive for genital gonorrhoea at a sexual health service in Melbourne, Australia. Epidemiology & Infection. 2020;148. doi:10.1017/S0950268820002265
  8. STD Facts - Syphilis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published 2019. URL
  9. HPV vaccine protects against HPV and the cancers it causes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published August 22, 2019. URL
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD Facts - Human papillomavirus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published January 19, 2021. URL
  11. Hepatitis B Questions and Answers for Health Professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published 2019. URL
  12. About HIV/AIDS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 1, 2021. URL
  13. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published September 21, 2021. URL
  14. Self-tests for STIs increase diagnoses and reduce costs. NIHR Evidence. URL
  15. Understanding telehealth. Telehealth.HHS.gov. Published February 25, 2021. URL
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