Treating herpes

Woman lubricates cold sores with herpes ointment.The treatment of oral herpes and of the resultant fever blisters / cold sores is essentially a way to alleviate discomfort or pain and help to reduce the healing time, and potentially limit the amount of recurring herpes outbreaks in the future. Once a person is infected with HSV, there is no available means to cure this virus.

The nature of an outbreak is not debilitating and generally, blisters and sores resolve and heal on their own within a matter of days, and if severe, up to several weeks without medical care.

If you do consult a doctor, he or she will generally recommend medications to help clear an outbreak which also helps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others while it is active in your body.

Prescription medications are also helpful in reducing the frequency of future outbreaks and their severity too.

Topical treatments for fever blisters / cold sores

Your doctor may prescribe medications in oral form (pills) or applied lotions and creams. He/she will likely recommend a cream that contains either acyclovir or penciclovir to treat an infection. These are best applied at the beginning stages of an outbreak, before a blister surfaces on the skin. These creams usually require application up to 5 times a day for at least 4 to 5 days.

Antiviral medications

If the outbreak is severe, your doctor will consider administering antiviral medications to help alleviate symptoms. He or she may also recommend painkillers containing paracetamol in either pill or liquid form to provide relief.

For those who have compromised or weakened immune systems, treatment will focus on reducing the risk of the infection spreading to other parts of the body. Those who are most at risk are individuals with HIV / AIDS or those being treated with chemotherapy for instance, as these conditions and medical interventions compromise the immune system, making it more vulnerable to the spread of infection. Infection spreading can result in further physical complications affecting the eye/s, and the brain. Inflammation in these areas can become serious for those with compromised immune systems.

To prevent this, doctors will prescribe antiviral medications, and possibly recommend seeing a specialist if symptoms are severe or at high-risk of further complications. Overall treatment will depend on the nature of symptom severity and general medical condition.

Treating Oral Herpes at home

Your doctor may also recommend the following at home treatments to ease discomfort while you heal:

  • Apply a cool compress or cool damp cloth to the affected areas to help reduce redness and inflammation. This also helps to promote healing once the blisters have crusted over.
  • Apply over-the-counter old sore ointments, as well as pain-relieving creams with lidocaine or benzocaine. These can be applied frequently for relief and also shorten the outbreak considerably. These may not speed up the healing process necessarily, but certainly provide some relief from the discomfort (pain, itching and dryness) of an outbreak. Some over-the-counter lotions may also contain drying agents, such as alcohol which can aid the healing process. If your doctor doesn’t recommend anything specific, chat to your pharmacist for assistance in choosing one that will help. All creams should be dabbed onto blisters or sores and not rubbed on the affected areas. It is important to wash your hands each time you apply or touch the infected area (to curb the spread of infection). To prevent the spread of infection, avoid sharing ointments, kissing, eating from the same cutlery or drinking from the same glass as anyone else.
  • Use a lip balm or cream with zinc oxide which offers sun protection (sunlight exposure can trigger outbreaks), and keeps your lips moist. For added moisture, if your lips become particularly dry, you can also apply a good moisturising cream.
  • Supplements:  Home remedies may include administering zinc, vitamin E and C supplements , or the amino acid L-Lysine  (in their tablet or cream forms) to prevent and treat cold sores. L-lysine dosage to manage active infections with cold sores is 1 gram (1000mg) three times daily. Once the infection clears, a dosage of  1 gram daily is recommended for preventative purposes.
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