Aciclovir cream is a cream that is applied to the face and lips. It is a kind of antiviral medicine which contains the active ingredient aciclovir. The cream is smooth and an off-white colour and is applied in a thin layer over the affected area of the skin. Antiviral medicines work by stopping a virus from growing and spreading – although they will not completely kill off the virus. They inhibit the virus which makes it easier for your body to fight it off. Aciclovir cream works on the herpes simplex virus to stop it spreading and promote healing. The herpes simplex virus can lay dormant in the body for a long time, so people who have outbreaks (like cold sores) often get them when they are feeling run down or tired and these outbreaks can be a recurring problem.
Cold sores can be very unpleasant, they can be painful and itchy and they are also very visible which people can find hard to cope with. Cold sores are a type of blister that usually appears around the mouth and nose, though can spread to other parts of the body too. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is highly contagious but can lay dormant in your body over time appearing in the form of cold sores when you are tired or run down or ill. While most cold sores will clear up on their own without treatment, many people prefer to use something to speed up the process and there are a variety of creams you can buy for this purpose.
What is Aciclovir Cream?
Aciclovir cream is a cream that is applied to the face and lips. It is a kind of antiviral medicine which contains the active ingredient aciclovir. The cream is smooth and an off-white colour and is applied in a thin layer over the affected area of the skin.
Antiviral medicines work by stopping a virus from growing and spreading – although they will not completely kill off the virus. They inhibit the virus which makes it easier for your body to fight it off.
Aciclovir cream works on the herpes simplex virus to stop it spreading and promote healing. The herpes simplex virus can lay dormant in the body for a long time, so people who have outbreaks (like cold sores) often get them when they are feeling run down or tired and these outbreaks can be a recurring problem.
When is Aciclovir cream used?
Aciclovir cream is used to treat cold sores around the mouth and nose, it should not be used internally on mouth ulcers or genital herpes.
- Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and can often be a recurring problem;
- Aciclovir cream speeds up the healing process by inhibiting the virus;
- Aciclovir works best when applied at the first sign of an outbreak (those who get frequent cold sores will recognise a ‘tingling’ sensation before the cold sore appears.
How do you use Aciclovir cream?
There are several different brands of Aciclovir cream like Zovirax, Pinewood, Superdrug and more. You may find the instructions for use vary from cream to cream. Always read the instructions in the packet you have and check with your doctor and pharmacist if you are unsure.
- Start using the cream as soon as possible once you know you have a cold sore (if you get them frequently you will likely know the ‘tingling’ sensation that occurs just before a cold sore appears);
- The herpes simplex virus is highly contagious. Practice meticulous hygiene while treating your cold sore to avoid the spread of the virus, wash your hands before and after using aciclovir cream and avoid touching your face;
- To prevent the virus from spreading to others, wash your hands frequently and avoid close contact like kissing, use separate towels and wash them often.
- Wash your hands carefully;
- Check that the tube of cream is intact before you use it for the first time;
- Apply a thin layer of the cream to the affected area and the area of the skin just next to it;
- Apply gently so that you don’t damage the skin;
- Wash your hands carefully again to prevent the infection from spreading (for example if you then touch another area on your face).
What dosages are there?
Most makes of aciclovir cream come in a tube and contain 5% of the active ingredient aciclovir. This means that there are 50mg of aciclovir in every 1g of cream. The tubes contain around 2g of cream.
Follow the instructions above concerning application, the usual doses are as follows, but do check the leaflet on the individual cream you purchase.
- Apply a thin layer of cream five times a day, around every 4 hours;
- Start the application as soon as you know you have a cold sore;
- Keep using the treatment for 5 days;
- If your cold sore has not cleared up after 5 days then you can continue to use the cream for a further 5 days;
- If your cold sore has not gone away after using the cream for 10 days then stop using it and speak to a doctor;
- Children can use the same cream and the same dose as adults, although as they are smaller you will naturally apply less cream than for an adult;
- The cream should be thrown away 6 weeks after opening, whether you have used it or not – if you get another cold sore you will need to buy a new tube of aciclovir cream.
- If you forget to apply the cream at the right time then apply as soon as you remember and then apply the remainder of your daily doses at evenly spaced times;
- If your cold sore gets worse when using the cream then stop using it and speak to your doctor;
- If you use more aciclovir cream than you should, seek medical assistance;
- If you or a child accidentally swallow acyclovir cream seek immediate medical assistance and take the package leaflet with you for easy identification.
What are the side effects of Aciclovir cream?
Just like any medicine or treatment, Aciclovir cream comes with a warning of some side effects. Not everyone who uses the cream will experience side effects.
The most serious side effect is an allergic reaction, look out for:
- A rash or itchy skin;
- Hives or welts;
- Swelling around the face, lips, nose, mouth or eyes;
- Shortness of breath.
If you think you may be having an allergic reaction to Aciclovir cream then stop using it right away and seek immediate medical assistance.
Common side effects that may affect up to 1 in 10 people are:
- Mild drying or flaking of the skin
Uncommon side effects that may affect up to 1 in 100 are:
- A burning sensation or a stinging feeling after you apply the cream that then goes away on its own.
Rare side effects that affect less than 1 in 1,000 people include:
- Reddening of the skin;
When shouldn’t you use Aciclovir cream?
- Do not use Aciclovir cream if you are allergic to aciclovir, valaciclovir, propylene glycol or any of the other ingredients listed on the packet;
- Do not use acyclovir cream to treat genital herpes or mouth ulcers caused by the herpes simplex virus or for herpes infections on or near your eyes;
- Do not use Aciclovir cream on the mucus membranes as it can irritate – areas to avoid include the inside of the nose and mouth, around the eyes and inside the vagina;
- Do not use Aciclovir cream if your cold sore is severe, get an appointment with a doctor for a potentially stronger treatment;
- Only use the cream on your face and lips;
- Do not use Aciclovir cream to treat a cold sore if you have a weakened immune system (e.g. you have an HIV infection, a recent bone marrow transplant or another health issue that affects your immune system) – speak to a doctor to find out what is best for you;
- Do not use Aciclovir cream when you are pregnant or breastfeeding unless you have been told to do so by your doctor, aciclovir has been known to pass into breast milk.
Does Aciclovir cream interact with other medications?
Although there are no specific or obvious warnings of medication interacting with Aciclovir cream – it is always best to tell your doctor or pharmacists about any other medication you are taking or have recently taken so they can double-check it is ok.
Always mention anything you are taking, including herbal remedies and vitamins.
Where can you buy Aciclovir cream?
You can buy Aciclovir cream from any reputable pharmacy, it may be sold under different trade names, for example, Cold Sore Cream, Aciclovir Cream, Zovirax but your pharmacist will be able to advise.
Purchase from the pharmacy that is easiest for you. Remember aciclovir cream works best when applied as soon as possible once you are aware of the cold sore forming so it’s best to get it sooner rather than later – take this into account when deciding where to buy.
Can I get Aciclovir cream without a prescription?
You do not generally need a prescription to get Aciclovir cream, you can buy it over the counter from any pharmacy and you do not need to consult with a doctor before using it. However, in the following circumstances you should speak to a doctor before self-treating with Aciclovir cream:
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding;
- If your cold sore is severe;
- If you have a weakened immune system (from an HIV infection, bone marrow transplant or similar).
You may also wish to speak to a doctor if you get cold sores frequently as the chances are they can prescribe a stronger antiviral medicine that will control the symptoms better and prevent the recurrences.
Minesh, K., 2019. Cold Sores. WebMD. Retrieved 18 March 2020 from: <https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-cold-sores-basics#1>
NHS Scotland, 2020. Cold Sores Symptoms And Treatments. Nhsinform.scot. Retrieved 17 March 2020 from: <https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mouth/cold-sore>
Pinewood laboratories Ltd, 2017. Aciclovir Cold Sore Cream – Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) – (Emc). Medicines.org.uk. Retrieved 17 March 2020 from: <https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/9273/pil>