Herpes is a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2).
HSV-1 primarily affects the oral region and is called oral herpes or herpes simplex labialis. It can cause lesions or sores also called cold sores or cold sores around the lips, tongue, mouth, or gums. In rare cases, HSV-1 can also cause genital sores or blisters (genital herpes).
HSV-1 is a contagious virus that can be spread by direct oral contact, such as kissing, or by sharing utensils with an infected person.
HSV-2 mainly affects the genital areas. It can cause sores or blisters in the genital or anal areas of the body. It is transmitted sexually through contact with genital herpes sores or blisters from an infected person.
Symptoms of HSV-1 or HSV-2 may include:
- blisters or sores that may be painful
- burning, stinging
- sore throat
There is no cure for herpes simplex viral infection. After the first infection, the virus can lie dormant and come back. Most people do not have severe symptoms of herpes simplex, and symptoms such as sores or blisters go away on their own. But some people with immune problems may have more serious symptoms.
There are several medications that have been shown to be effective in managing symptoms.
Below we will discuss some of the most common drugs used to treat oral and genital herpes.
There are various antiviral drugs that are effective in managing herpes simplex infection. They belong to the group of antiviral drugs and come in different dosage forms. Antiviral drugs work to manage the symptoms of herpes simplex by preventing the virus from multiplying and growing in the body.
A healthcare professional can discuss the best choice for you based on:
- your symptoms
- your age
- any other health problem you may have
- other medicines you are taking
The dosage of your antiviral medicine depends on:
- the dosage form (oral, buccal or topical)
- your condition (oral or genital herpes)
- whether it is an initial or recurrent infection
- your age
Common side effects of oral antiviral drugs can include:
- nausea Vomiting
Some serious side effects of oral antivirals can include:
Tell your doctor if you have
- any health problem such as liver or kidney problems or blood disorders
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- are immunocompromised (weakened immune system)
- take other medications or supplements
Acyclovir is a generic prescription version of the brand name drug Zovirax. It is used to manage the symptoms of recurrent oral or genital herpes (repeated episodes).
Acyclovir is also the active ingredient in the brand name medicine Sitavig.
Sitavig comes in the form of oral tablets that you place in the upper area of the gums to dissolve them. It is used to manage the symptoms of recurrent oral herpes.
Keep in mind that when you have active sores or blisters, you can still pass the infection on to someone while you are taking acyclovir. The medicine does not cure your herpes simplex infection.
A doctor or pharmacist will discuss the right dosage of Zovirax or Sitavig for you.
Docosanol is an over-the-counter topical antiviral cream for treating recurrent oral herpes infection of the face or lips. A 2010
Most people do not experience side effects from using docosanol, but in rare cases some people have an allergic reaction to the medicine. If you experience a rash, swelling of the face, dizziness, difficulty breathing, or any other serious reaction to docosanol, seek medical attention immediately.
Wash your hands before and after using the cream. Remember that docosanol does not cure oral herpes, and you can still pass the virus on if you have a sore or blister.
Famcliclovir is a generic version of the brand name medicine Famvir. It is in the form of a tablet that you will swallow.
It is used to treat repeated episodes of oral herpes and genital herpes in adults. Famciclovir is also used to prevent repeated episodes of genital herpes in people who have frequent symptoms of herpes.
A doctor can give you more information about famciclovir, its dosage and how well it works for your condition.
Penciclovir is the active ingredient in the brand name Denavir. It’s a prescription drug. This is a topical cream that is applied to the blisters or sores of oral herpes.
Some people have a rare allergic reaction to penciclovir cream. Tell your doctor if you have any allergies or have ever had a reaction to penciclovir. If you experience a rash, difficulty breathing, dizziness, or other severe symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Valacyclovir is the generic version of the brand name drug Valtrex. It is a prescription drug that comes in tablet form that you will swallow. It is used to treat the symptoms of oral and genital herpes.
Valacyclovir is used to treat the first episode of oral and genital herpes. The drug is also used for repeated episodes of genital herpes and to prevent the risk of future outbreaks of genital herpes in adults at risk for multiple episodes. Valacyclovir is also used in some cases to reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes.
Your doctor can provide more information about the best use of valacyclovir for your condition, dosage, and effectiveness.
The most common antiviral drugs used to manage the symptoms of herpes simplex are available by prescription. If you have symptoms such as a cold sore or genital herpes, call your doctor’s office. They will first diagnose if you have herpes simplex. Then, they will prescribe you an appropriate medication to manage your symptoms.
Only docosanol (Abreva) is an over-the-counter antiviral medicine as a cream to manage oral symptoms such as cold sores or cold sores.
If you have mild symptoms of a recurrent oral herpes infection, you may be able to use non-prescription methods or home remedies to manage your symptoms.
- pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief
- cold compress or ice to soothe burning or itching
- topical zinc oxide cream, which may help soothe itching or burning
Before trying any over-the-counter medications or supplements, be sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor or pharmacist.
It is important to speak with your doctor first before using over-the-counter (OTC) products like docosanol or other home remedies.
If this is your first time having symptoms of HSV with blisters or sores, your doctor will first diagnose whether you have HSV, type (HSV-1 or HSV-2) and discuss options to manage your condition. They will tell you about prescription and over-the-counter alternatives to treat your HSV infection.
Tell your doctor if you have serious health problems, including if you have a weakened immune system.
Your doctor will also tell you what to expect if you have an HSV infection, how long it can last, and what you need to do to avoid passing HSV to others while you have an active infection.
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the herpes simplex virus.
Is herpes curable?
No, herpes simplex is not curable. But antiviral drugs and over-the-counter products are effective in managing symptoms of the disease such as lesions and sores.
After your first episode, the virus goes dormant and can reappear at any time. Stress, hormonal changes, illness or exposure to the sun can trigger an epidemic. Talk to your doctor about steps you can take to minimize flare-ups of herpes simplex.
Can I buy over-the-counter herpes medicine?
Most antiviral drugs approved to treat symptoms of HSV are available by prescription. But there are over-the-counter options for repeated episodes of oral herpes. Docosanol (Abreva) is an over the counter option for managing herpes cold sores. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication.
How effective are herpes medications?
Prescription antiviral drugs have been shown to be effective in managing symptoms of HSV.
Can you spread herpes while taking medication?
Yes, even while taking an antiviral medication you can infect direct close contact with herpes simplex (oral or genital contact) while you have sores or blisters. Take steps to avoid sharing personal hygiene products (lip balm, towels, etc.) and oral and genital contact while you have an active infection.
The herpes simplex virus is a common viral infection. According to
Many people do not have symptoms (sores or blisters) of an HSV infection, but can still transmit the virus through close direct contact (oral or genital).
There is no cure for HSV, but antiviral drugs can help reduce painful symptoms. Most people have mild symptoms that go away within a few days. Your risk of more serious symptoms is higher if your immune system is weakened.
A healthcare professional can tell you more about the types of HSV infection and all of your treatment options.