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.
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.