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Herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). When it flares up, several medications can ease the symptoms. Some are available to buy online.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 5 people in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

This article discusses the most common herpes treatments, lists some home care techniques a person can consider, and looks at when a person should consider testing. It also answers some frequently asked questions about herpes treatments.

Herpes is a common STI caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). It can pass from one person to another through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Oral herpes often stems from an HSV-1 infection, and it can cause blisters or sores to form on or around the mouth. An HSV-2 infection often causes blisters and sores to form on or around the genitals.

However, many people with herpes have no symptoms.

The virus cannot pass from person to person via shared toilets, bedding, swimming pools, or surfaces such as countertops or doorknobs.

The most common herpes treatments come in pill form. These can include the antiviral medications acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir.

According to the CDC, the type of treatment a person receives can depend on whether they have a first-time or recurrent infection:

  • First infection: Upon the first diagnosis, people should get antiviral treatment. This is because first-time infections can cause severe symptoms.
  • Recurrence: According to the CDC, most people with their first HSV-2 infection experience recurrent symptoms affecting the genitals. Antiviral therapy can help reduce the severity of symptoms, how long they last, and the frequency of outbreaks.
  • Suppressive: People with frequently reoccurring HSV-2 episodes can get a suppressive treatment that reduces the number of flare-ups they have. This involves taking antiviral medication long-term. Doing so can also help reduce transmission between sexual partners when combined with barrier methods of birth control, such as condoms.

Herpes treatment aims to reduce the severity and frequency of symptom flare-ups. However, there is no cure for the condition. Once the virus enters the body, it never completely goes away.

People should seek advice from a doctor if they develop symptoms.

Anyone who has had oral, anal, or vaginal sex with someone with herpes — without using a barrier method of protection, such as a condom — should also contact a doctor.

Herpes can cause blisters to form on or around the mouth or genitals. These blisters then break, forming open, painful sores that may take at least 1 week to heal.

The symptoms may clear up on their own and reappear later in what some call “outbreaks” or “flare-ups.”

Some triggers that can cause herpes symptoms to reappear include:

Doctors may prescribe one of the following antiviral medications to help manage herpes symptoms. A person can also take steps at home to ease the symptoms.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Acyclovir

Acyclovir (Zovirax) usually comes as an oral tablet, but it is also available as a cream, ointment, and drinkable liquid.

This is usually the first treatment for herpes. Doctors mainly prescribe it for genital herpes, but they may prescribe it for cold sores, chickenpox, and shingles, which also result from an infection with the herpes virus.

A person should begin the treatment as soon as they display any symptoms and continue using it for as long as the doctor advises.

The prescribed dosage will vary from person to person. However, a person can expect to take it two to five times per day, as their doctor instructs.

Recommended dosages for initial infections, episodic treatment, and suppressive treatment of HSV-2 infections include:

  • Initial infection: 400 milligrams (mg) three times per day for 7–10 days
  • Episodic treatment: 800 mg two or three times per day for 5 days
  • Suppressive treatment: 400 mg twice per day

A doctor may change the dosage if a person has problems with their kidneys.

It is important to wash the hands thoroughly before applying acyclovir cream to the affected area.

Some side effects of this medication include:

Acyclovir can interact with a wide range of medications, including certain antibiotics, antidepressants, and pain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen. A person should tell their doctor about any medications they are taking before they start treatment with acyclovir.

A person should speak with a doctor before taking acyclovir if they are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant.

Acyclovir is available from the online pharmacies Blink Health and Lemonaid.

Famciclovir

Famciclovir (Famvir) comes as a tablet, and it can treat initial and recurring oral and genital herpes flare-ups and shingles.

The dosage varies, but people generally take the tablets two to three times per day. Doctors usually prescribe this medication for short-term use, but it is crucial to follow a doctor’s specific instructions.

The typical dosage protocol is as follows:

  • Initial infection: 250 mg three times per day for 7–10 days
  • Episodic treatment: 1 gram (g) twice per day for 1 day; 500 mg once followed by 250 mg twice per day for 2 days; or 125 mg twice per day for 5 days
  • Suppressive treatment: 250 mg twice per day

The most common side effects are:

Famciclovir is safe for use in pregnancy.

However, people with a history of renal impairment or liver toxicity may not be able to take famciclovir. They should talk with a doctor before starting treatment with famciclovir.

Famciclovir is available to order from Blink Health and as a cold sore treatment from Lemonaid.

Valacyclovir

Valacyclovir (Valtrex) comes as a tablet. A person usually takes one tablet twice per day.

Doctors typically prescribe valacyclovir for short-term use, though some people take it for longer. A person should discuss the duration of treatment with a doctor.

A typical dosage of valacyclovir is as follows:

  • Initial infection: 1 g twice daily for 7–10 days
  • Episodic treatment: 1 g once per day for 5 days, or 500 mg twice per day for 3 days
  • Suppressive treatment: 1 g once per day, or 500 mg once per day

However, 500 mg of valacyclovir once per day may be less effective than other dosages for people who have up to 10 herpes outbreaks each year.

Some common side effects of this medication include:

A person should seek immediate medical advice if they experience:

Learn more about blood in the urine in males and females.

A person should talk with a doctor if they are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant. If a person becomes pregnant while taking valacyclovir, they should contact a doctor.

Valacyclovir is available to order online from Blink Health.

Home care techniques

A person can take some steps at home to ease herpes symptoms, but they should contact a doctor if these strategies are ineffective.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends:

  • applying ice to blisters
  • avoiding triggers such as stress and sunburn
  • applying over-the-counter medication to blisters

A person should be careful when applying ice to their skin. To avoid burns, they should consider wrapping the ice in a towel before applying it.

They may also wish to try to ease symptoms with products such as honey, oils, or vitamins.

Learn more about home remedies for herpes.

Researchers recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing and underwear and taking pain relief medications if blisters become painful. They also warn that using antiviral creams may increase the risk of viral resistance.

Although they can be more accessible and less costly, home care techniques may not be as effective, especially in people with more severe symptoms or frequent outbreaks. They may also cause side effects, depending on the treatment a person tries.

This table compares each of the above medications and treatments.

TypeRequires a prescriptionSafe for pregnancy
Acyclovirtablet, cream, or liquidyesno
Famciclovirtablet yesyes
Valacyclovirtablet yesno
Home care techniquesvariousnodependent on treatment

A person should speak with a doctor about any of the following symptoms:

  • blisters that burst, leaving red, open sores in the genital area or anus, or around the thighs, buttocks, or mouth
  • tingling or itching around the genitals
  • pain when urinating
  • unusual vaginal discharge

Learn more about vaginal discharge colors and what they mean.

A person should contact a healthcare professional after having unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has genital herpes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the risk of the herpes virus passing to a newborn during childbirth. Although this is rare, pregnant people with herpes should inform a doctor.

Using a condom or another barrier method of protection during sex reduces the risk of transmitting the virus. People should also avoid sharing sex toys with someone who has herpes.

Several online companies offer STI testing kits, including:

Anyone with a positive test result should contact a healthcare professional.

Learn more about at-home STI tests.

Below are answers to some of the top frequently asked questions about herpes and the treatment options available.

Is medication necessary for herpes?

Medication can shorten herpes flare-ups, ease symptoms, and reduce a person’s chance of passing herpes on to other people. As such, doctors typically recommend that a person with herpes get treated.

However, people with no or very mild symptoms may not feel it is necessary.

A person should talk with a doctor about the benefits of getting medication for herpes.

What happens if you leave herpes untreated?

According to the CDC, genital herpes can lead to painful sores, which can be worse in people with weaker immune systems. A person may also spread the virus to other parts of their body.

In pregnant people, herpes may lead to miscarriage or make early delivery more likely. A person can also pass herpes on to their baby before or during birth. This can cause neonatal herpes, which can be fatal.

Pregnant people with herpes may need to receive herpes treatment toward the end of their pregnancy and have a cesarean delivery if they have herpes symptoms when they give birth.

It is important that people speak with a doctor about treating herpes.

How effective is herpes medication?

There is no cure for herpes. However, herpes medication can effectively reduce symptoms, flare-ups, and the risk of transmitting it to other people.

The CDC writes that suppressive therapy for herpes can reduce the frequency of flare-ups by 70–80% in people who frequently experience infections.

Does sleep help herpes?

Sleep loss can negatively affect the immune system and may make someone more susceptible to a herpes infection. While a person sleeps, their body works to fight bacteria and viruses they may have been exposed to during the day.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that people aged 18–64 years get 7–9 hours of sleep per night.

A person should try to get the recommended amount of sleep to help their body recover from a herpes infection, and they should consider speaking with a doctor if their symptoms are severe or persistent.

There is no cure for herpes, but various treatments and home care techniques can manage the symptoms.

Antiviral medications for herpes are available by prescription, and a person can also order them from online pharmacies.