Many prescription medications can cause side effects and interact with other medicines or substances. Drinking alcohol whilst taking certain drugs could heighten side effects or interfere with the efficacy of the medicine.
Consuming alcohol whilst on medication is a choice but it can be hard to say no to a glass of wine or a beer at a big social event. But is it worth the risk? Let’s first take a look at what acyclovir is and what side effects it has.
What is Acyclovir?
Acyclovir (aciclovir) is an antiviral drug used to treat infections caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV - type 1 (HSV 1) and type 2 (HSV 2). Type 1 is incredibly common among the general population. People who get cold sores (fever blisters) are HSV 1 carriers. But the virus could lay dormant and never cause any outbreaks.
HSV is spread through contact with the skin or body fluids such as saliva, vaginal or penile secretions.
HSV 2 is less common and linked to genital herpes. But medical experts have found that HSV 1 can also cause genital herpes via oral sex.
Herpes simplex infections usually go away by themselves after 2 to 4 weeks, but many patients seek treatment because the symptoms can be very uncomfortable on a daily basis.
A doctor may prescribe acyclovir to treat or prevent an outbreak of cold sores or genital herpes. The medicine is also used to treat chickenpox and shingles. There is some evidence that acyclovir for Bell’s palsy is effective because the facial nerve paralysis is linked to HSV.
Acyclovir works by suppressing the replication of viral DNA. This stops the virus from replicating and spreading in your body.
How to take Acyclovir?
Acyclovir is available as 200 mg oral tablets. The exact dosage and duration of the treatment will depend on how severe your symptoms are.
To treat genital herpes, individuals are usually prescribed 200 mg of the drug to be taken 5 times a day at 4-hour intervals. The minimum duration of treatment is 5 days but can be prolonged if your symptoms are more severe.
In patients whose immune systems are severely down, a higher dose of 400 mg may be prescribed.
To get rid of cold sores, you may be prescribed a cream that contains acyclovir. This can be applied 5 times a day for at least 4 days. In some cases, oral acyclovir may be prescribed instead, to be taken at a higher dose for 24 hours only.
Do not use acyclovir if you have canker sores (ulcers) on the inside of the mouth, because they are not the same as cold sores and therefore acyclovir won’t be the right treatment.
Make sure you begin treatment with acyclovir as soon as you notice signs of an infection. In the case of cold sores, you may notice tingling and itching around your lips or a slight reddening of the area surrounding your mouth before blisters emerge. Early genital herpes symptoms include tingling or itching sensation on or near your genital or anal region.
The sooner you start to take acyclovir, the faster the drug can act and speed up recovery. Patient trials have shown that acyclovir can accelerate healing of genital blisters by 1 to 2 days.
Acyclovir can also be prescribed to manage recurrent herpes outbreaks. This is referred to as suppressive therapy. Studies have shown that taking a low dose of acyclovir is safe for at least 1 year, but it does not cure HSV. Just 20% of patients who took acyclovir for 5 years did not have recurrences of herpes outbreaks afterward.
Side effects of Acyclovir
Antiviral drugs are generally well-tolerated, but you may notice some mild side effects. They include:
- Nausea and vomiting
Serious side effects which require urgent medical attention include:
- Skin rash, swollen skin
- Finding it hard to breath, wheezing
- Swollen face or lips
- Chest tightness
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Is Drinking Safe While Taking Acyclovir?
There are no clinical studies that have tested whether drinking alcohol whilst taking acyclovir negatively affects the human body. Therefore, it may be safe to drink alcoholic beverages (in moderation) whilst on acyclovir.
It is not recommended to drink heavily whilst you are taking antivirals because:
- Alcohol is an immune system suppressant and HSV outbreaks often occur during times when your immune system is weak. It’s worth boosting your body’s immune response when you are suffering a viral outbreak to help speed up the recovery process.
- Alcohol can make side effects worse. If you drink (even moderately) and take acyclovir you may feel dizzier or more nauseas.
- Because alcohol alters the immune response, heavy and frequent drinking could make you more prone to recurrent herpes outbreaks and other viral infections.
So, should you drink alcohol whilst taking acyclovir? The answer is: probably not. If you must have a glass (1-2 units) of an alcohol beverage, it’s likely safe to do so. But avoid drinking heavily or frequently.
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- Medicines.org.uk. (2018). Aciclovir 200 mg Tablets - Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC) - (eMC). [online] Available at: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/4334/smpc.
- Nato, N., Honda, N., Gyo, K., Aono, H., Murakami, S. and Yanagihara, N. (2000). Treatment of Bell’s Palsy with Acyclovir and Prednisolone. Nippon Jibiinkoka Gakkai Kaiho, 103(2), pp.133–138.
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