What is the Most Common Treatment for Herpes Simplex?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress
Antiviral ointments are often used to treat herpes.
Antiviral ointments are often used to treat herpes.

The herpes simplex virus can manifest as painful blisters and open lesions on the genitals or face. The virus cannot be cured, and infected people often suffer from occasional outbreaks throughout their lives. Certain measures can be taken, however, to reduce the likelihood of frequent episodes and lessen the healing time of active sores. Using a topical antiviral cream during an outbreak is the most common treatment for herpes simplex, but persistent problems may require daily oral medications to suppress the virus.

Topical over-the-counter creams are often used for herpes simplex 1 breakouts.
Topical over-the-counter creams are often used for herpes simplex 1 breakouts.

There are two primary forms of herpes simplex. Type 1 generally results in cold sores on the lips, corners of the mouth, or underneath the nostrils. Besides affecting a person's appearance, these sores can cause pain and burning sensations. The most common treatment for herpes simplex 1 is an over-the-counter (OTC) topical ointment that contains docosonal, acyclovir, lidocaine, or a combination of the three. OTC drugs are available at most pharmacies and supermarkets, and are designed to be used several times a day during an active outbreak.

OTC medications work by drying out blisters and numbing pain. When they are applied at the first signs of a cold sore, healing time can be shortened by a few days. By keeping the sore clean and applying medication consistently, it usually disappears within two weeks. A doctor can prescribe a high-strength topical solution in the case of chronic outbreaks or very large blisters that persist for longer than a couple of weeks. Some patients are prescribed daily oral medications containing acyclovir or famciclovir to help suppress recurring episodes.

Treatment for herpes simplex 2, the variety that causes genital lesions, is somewhat similar to treatment for herpes simplex 1. Due to a lack of consistent clinical research findings, doctors generally discourage patients from trying OTC remedies on genital lesions. Instead, an individual should visit his or her doctor to learn about prescription options. A patient who is experiencing his or her first outbreak is usually given an oral drug containing valacyclovir or acyclovir to be taken daily while symptoms persist. Topical creams are also available to ease burning and irritation.

Patients who have frequently recurring outbreaks of genital lesions may be prescribed medications to take every day, even during symptom-free periods. Suppressive medications, when taken exactly as directed, can be very effective at reducing the frequency of flares. Some people respond exceptionally well to treatment, and outbreaks stop completely with daily medication use.

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Discussion Comments


I don't use a lot of topical products for fever blister treatment but I like topical lidocaine for the pain. I like to use aloe vera gel with lidocaine when my lip is throbbing from a cold sore. Putting an ice cube on it also helps.

I do take antiviral medications and lysine though, which is a supplement that strengthens the immune system. I also take a multivitamin daily, to give my body all the nutrients it needs to fight the infection.


@simrin-- You might not prefer this remedy because it stings, but I personally just use salt to treat cold sores.

I wet my finger, put salt on it and apply it on the cold sore. I let it sit for a few minutes (or as long as I can handle the stinging) and then wash it off. I repeat this a few times a day and apply medicated lip balm afterward. It hurts, but it's worth it.

At first, it turns the cold sore white, then it reduces swelling and makes the blister scab over in a day or two. You can completely skip the stage where the blister fills up with fluid and pops if you use this remedy. Cold sores usually take one to two weeks to heal. Mine heal in five days with the salt treatment.


What are some natural remedies for cold sores?

I've tried antiviral ointment from the pharmacy. I think it worked well and made my cold sore heal faster but it was kind of expensive. I'm looking for more affordable remedies.

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    • Antiviral ointments are often used to treat herpes.
      By: Tinga
      Antiviral ointments are often used to treat herpes.
    • Topical over-the-counter creams are often used for herpes simplex 1 breakouts.
      By: Marco2811
      Topical over-the-counter creams are often used for herpes simplex 1 breakouts.