Share This Post

Getting Started on Medicine for Herpes

Written by Lindsey Mcilvena, MD, MPH

Helpful information about getting your outbreak to go away as fast as possible.

How long will it take for my outbreak to go away?

If your outbreak was in the beginning stages when you took the medicine, it may not become a full-blown outbreak. If you have tingling or itchiness in the typical spot where you get outbreaks, that time is the best for taking the medicine.

If you already had a bump or blister at the site of the outbreak, then it will take time for the sores to heal, sometimes a week or so. Taking the medicine at that stage usually does make it heal faster though, so it can still be worth it.

Is this contagious? Should I tell my partner?

The sores are most contagious when oozing blisters are present. However even at other phases or when you don't have sores you can still transmit the virus to other people.

For example sharing utensils, kissing, and sharing towels can potentially transmit the virus. Oral sex can potentially transmit an oral outbreak to the genitals.

It’s probably a good idea to tell your partner about your outbreaks, because there is a chance they may get it. But keep in mind that the herpes virus is very common, and if you don’t have sores, the risk of spreading it to your partner is lower.

Can I use over the counter Abreva?

Yes, you can use abreva and prescription medicines at the same time. Prescription medicines for herpes are typically stronger and work faster than over the counter abreva. If you’re taking prescription pills and using abreva then you are fighting the outbreak from the inside with the pills and the outside with the cream.

I took the medicine but the sore is still there!

If the outbreak was already visible as a bump or blister it will take time to heal. Even taking the medicine will not make it go away overnight. Be patient, the virus temporarily damages your skin and it may take a week or so to fully clear up. In most cases, just because it doesn’t heal immediately, you don’t need to take more prescription oral medicine for your current outbreak. You can keep using over the counter or prescription creams while the sores heal. And try to avoid touching the area or picking at the crust and scabs. The good news is that herpes sores tend to heal without creating a scar.

If it’s been a couple of weeks and your sores still aren’t healing, or are getting worse, it’s a good idea to be seen in person at that point.

Should I take preventive medicine for herpes?

It depends on which type of herpes infections you get. If you have cold sores on the mouth and get more than 4-6 outbreaks per year, then you may want to talk to your doctor about being on preventive medicine. If you have genital herpes it may be worthwhile to take a daily medicine even if your outbreaks don’t happen that often - since taking daily medicine can decrease the risk of spreading genital herpes to your partner.

Is there anything else I can do to prevent outbreaks?

Unfortunately there isn’t great evidence right now that changes to diet and lifestyle, or taking supplements, can for sure prevent outbreaks. Some people have found that mixing lysine powder (an amino acid supplement) in water and taking it daily seems to help, but the evidence is still lacking. If you find that stress seems to trigger your outbreaks, then working on getting a little exercise and trying out simple mindfulness meditation might help.

How can I prevent spreading herpes to my partner?

You may want to talk to your doctor about taking an antiviral medicine for herpes to help decrease the risk of spreading herpes to your partner. For example, valacyclovir cuts the risk of spreading genital herpes in half, and using condoms cuts the risk in half again. Using dental dams during oral sex can also help decrease the chance of spreading the virus. You are most contagious while you have an active outbreak (sores), so avoid sharing utensils, drinks, food, towels during that time and also avoid sexual contact.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HeyDoctor, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Check out the HeyDoctor app

With over 1,000 5-star reviews, we're one of the highest rated medical apps. See for yourself!