Oral herpes or cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1, and genital herpes is caused by the HSV type 2 virus. These strains can be transmitted to individuals in various ways, but they are typically transmitted through sexual encounters. While these infections are treatable, they are not curable. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments out there for those affected by herpes.
There are three main antiviral prescription medications designed to treat herpes, namely Acyclovir, Valacyclovir, and Famciclovir. In addition, home remedies, over-the-counter medications and alternative methods are available to aid in discomfort and pain. However, it is important to note that prescription medications are proven to be most effective in reducing the severity and duration of herpes outbreaks. Antiviral medication is typically prescribed to individuals experiencing a first-time outbreak, but it is also used by persons who suffer from frequent and recurrent outbreaks.
Acyclovir is considered to be the oldest antiviral medication designed to treat herpes. It was initially sold as an ointment in 1982, then developed into its modern pill form in 1985. Acyclovir has proven to be safe for daily consumption in affected individuals, for as long as ten years.
Valacyclovir is a relatively newer drug on the market, which actually uses Acyclovir as its active ingredient. This medication is formulated to deliver Acyclovir more efficiently so that it is absorbed thoroughly by the body and ultimately results in lessening intake throughout the day.
Famciclovir utilizes penciclovir as its active ingredient to prevent HSV from replicating. It is similar to Valacyclovir in the sense that it is easily absorbable, has a lasting effect and is not required to be taken as often as Acyclovir.
These antiviral medications are prescribed in two different treatment regimens: episodic therapy and suppressive therapy. Episodic therapy is an approach in where one immediately takes medication at the first symptoms of an oncoming outbreak, and continuously takes the medication in the following days in order to accelerate the healing process, or to prevent an outbreak altogether. All three medications have been proven to reduce the duration of a herpes outbreak, however, this approach produces results that vary from person to person due to the various absorption rates and duration of effectiveness. Affected individuals are instructed to take one to five pills every day for three to five days while experiencing an outbreak. Episodic therapy is a useful approach in managing the length of a breakout, typically cutting it by a day or two. This method may be beneficial for those who experience longer outbreaks, however, it may not be of much help if there are visible lesions already present.
Suppressive therapy is extremely beneficial to those who intend to eliminate (suppress) outbreaks by taking antiviral medication on a daily basis to keep HSV at bay. Through this particular regimen, outbreaks are less likely to flare up and show symptoms. For those who suffer from frequent recurrences (6 or more per year), it has been proven that suppressive therapy has helped reduce the number of outbreaks by an estimated 75%. In addition, there are some individuals who choose to take antiviral medication daily and are able to avoid outbreaks altogether.
Through the implementation of these two regimens to control herpes outbreaks, several researchers have questioned the relation between antiviral therapy and asymptomatic shedding. Is suppressive therapy effective in lowering the frequency of herpes reactivation as well as controlling recognized outbreaks? In one study, this particular issue was addressed. It was found that women who were prescribed suppressive Acyclovir (400 mg twice, daily) noticed a reduction in subclinical shedding while also undergoing daily therapy. The same study was also done with Valacyclovir and Famciclovir, which produced similar results in both men and women. Since the medications have varying absorption rates and duration of effectiveness, dosages in suppressive therapy can range from one to two pills a day.
Aside from antiviral prescription medicines, there are alternative methods of coping with an episode of a herpes outbreak. There are over-the-counter options available to those who are not able to immediately obtain a prescription. Abreva (docosanol) is the only FDA-approved antiviral medication for herpes available without a prescription. This medication is formulated as a cream and is designed to be applied externally on the skin over the affected area every three to four hours. Do not apply inside the mouth, eyes or vagina. It is recommended to wash your hands before and after every application to prevent spreading the infection to other parts of your body.
Medicated pain relieving lotions and creams are also easily accessible at any local pharmacy or grocery store. Before purchasing any of these products, be sure to verify with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure that it is safe to apply to herpes lesions. Like with Abreva, remember to always wash your hands before and after application.
Pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) can aid in the discomfort of herpes-related pain up to several hours.
Although over-the-counter methods are easily accessible and readily available, they are not highly recommended in the treatment for genital herpes as they can interrupt the healing process and prolong the herpes infection. Without over-the-counter creams/ointments, it is advised to keep the infected area clean and dry as possible. It is also important to regularly expose the infection to fresh air, as it aids in speeding up the healing process. Doctors also recommend soaking the affected area in warm water to relieve pain. After showering, there may be difficulty in drying off with a towel as it may be painful to open sores. A hairdryer is an alternative method in drying off after a shower. Cotton underwear is also a necessity for those affected by genital herpes, and it is more effective at absorbing moisture as opposed to synthetic fabric.
With the various medications and therapies available, there are several different methods to cope with a herpes infection. Oral and genital herpes are considered to be serious conditions and should be addressed to a licensed professional in order to find a treatment suitable for you. For the benefit of your sexual health and others, seek immediate medical attention at the first symptom of an oncoming outbreak.
For further questions, reach out to HerpAlert, an online based company of medical professionals, who diagnose and treat all types of Herpes 100% confidentially, right from the comfort of your home.