Viruses are living organisms that are smaller in size than many forms of bacteria. These micro-organisms attack your cells for their sustenance and reproduction. When they infect your cells, it can lead to several medical conditions such as common cold, herpes, hepatitis, AIDS, etc. Viral attacks can lead to different outcomes based on your genetic make-up as well as other medical conditions. Antiviral drugs are widely prescribed for the treatment of these attacks. Acyclovir is a common drug belonging to the antiviral family of medications. It is administered for the treatment of cold-sores as well as genital-herpes. You are advised to know the side effects of this drug before starting a medication plan involving its intake.
Herpes represents a family of viral organisms known to cause infections such as shingles, genital herpes, cold sores, chicken pox, inflammation of brain (clinically referred as encephalitis), to name a few. Of these infections, genital-herpes is a sexually transmitted condition. Infections of skin, such as chicken pox, shingles, etc. – are triggered by a slightly different strand of herpes virus. Acyclovir – an antiviral drug – is known to work against a host of viruses belonging to the herpes genre. Its efficacy is however more pronounced against herpes simplex virus (both type I and II), varicella zoster and Epstein-Barr species.
The key action of acyclovir is to prevent the reproduction and possible spread of herpes virus, by stopping its DNA action. An important function of this drug is its ability to stop the progression of viral attacks without disturbing the regular functions of your cells. Owing to this, acyclovir is also used to decrease the severity as well as duration of viral attacks. Its chemical properties help reduce itchiness, pain as well as heal different types of skin infections. It can also help stop further spread of sores. This drug is administered onto people living with a compromised immunity level; in such people, it can stop infections by reducing the risks of a possible progression or spread of viral attacks.
Use of acyclovir
Acyclovir is taken orally before or after a meal. The efficiency of this drug is at its best when it is consumed at the start of a viral attack. This is because, this drug’s efficacy levels are considered to be low if taken at the later stages of viral attacks. Doses of acyclovir to adults are based on your clinical condition and also depend on how well your body responds to this antiviral drug. However, for children, doses are based on their bodyweight.
This drug is also available in a liquid form. It is highly recommended to use the spoon or measuring cup provided along with its pack. Use of a spoon or ladle from your kitchen may lead to a wrong measurement. Typical dosage level of acyclovir may vary based on your medical condition; however, commonly prescribed dosage form ranges between 2 to 4 times in a day, as per instructions of your physician. It is recommended to consume a lot of water (or, other liquids) while you are on a medication plan involving acyclovir. It is equally important to keep the drug at an even level in your body for an effective defense; for this reason, your physician may advise intake of acyclovir in equally-timed intervals. Hence, it is essential to take this drug strictly as per your dosage schedule.
Side effects of acyclovir
This drug is known to cause a few minor side effects. Commonly experienced side effects are abdominal discomforts like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc. In some people, it has also triggered headaches and mild levels of dizziness. These side effects will disappear on their own, soon after your body gets familiar with the ingredients of this medication. However, if one or more of these signs persist for a longer span of time, you are advised to consult your treating physician urgently.
Serious side effects
In remote instances, this drug can trigger a few acute reactions or side effects like drowsiness, feeling dizzy, symptoms of renal dysfunction, mood shifts, tremors, slurring of speech as well as lack of coordination. You may need to stay conscious of symptoms associated with kidney problems; these include discharge of urine in excessive quantities, sudden pain in the rear side of abdomen, etc. This drug may at times lead to mental conditions such as being in a confused state or in an agitated frame of mind. A few people have also reported hallucinations while taking acyclovir.
Very serious reactions and side effects
Acyclovir is unlikely to cause very serious side effects. However, in remote cases, the drug may cause a few near-fatal conditions that can alter the functioning of your kidneys, blood-cells, etc. These severe conditions are noted in people who have a compromised immunity system. For example, people living with an implanted kidney, those who recently underwent bone-marrow transplantation or people affected by HIV AIDS. These serious conditions may show up as erratic or rapid heartbeats, acute episodes of pain in your lower abdomen, discoloration of skin, convulsions, epileptic fits, blurring of vision, passing out, etc. In a few people, severe conditions may also show in the form of bleeding, development of bruises, darkened urine or traces of blood in urine, excessive levels of tiredness, etc.
People who have any known-allergies or hypersensitivity to acyclovir must inform about such conditions to their medical team. In some cases, an inactive or passive ingredient of acyclovir may trigger a few allergies or side effects. Hence, you are advised to talk to your physician about all prior reactions and allergic discomforts. In general, allergies caused by intake of acyclovir are very rare. But, if you witness signs such as swelling or inflammation of oral organs, an acute spell of drowsiness, respiratory problems like wheezing or gasping, rashes on skin, etc. you need to take medical help as quickly as possible. If you are living in the US, you must call 911 or the helpline numbers of food and drug administration (FDA) as soon as possible. On the other hand, if you are living in any of the provinces of Canada, you must get in touch with Health Canada or reach out to a local poison control center.
Risks of side effects triggered by taking acyclovir along with other medications
Acyclovir may interact with other drugs, if taken together or co-administered. It is hence considered as a good practice to make a list of all drugs you are currently taking. As you prepare this list, make sure to add over the counter (OTC) medications, prescription drugs, herbal supplements, dietary aids and nutraceuticals. The efficacy of acyclovir may vary based on any of these drugs you are currently taking or treatment plans you are presently pursuing. You also need to know the medications with which acyclovir may work adversely, and avoid such drugs to reduce risks of serious side effects.
Acyclovir is known to interact with medications falling under a category called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen, ibuprofen, etc. It is important to know that acyclovir is identical to the chemical composition of valacyclovir. Hence, co-administration of these two drugs can only lead to an overdosed condition; side effects such as drowsiness, mood shifts and dizziness can turn more acute if these drugs are taken together.
General precautions to avoid side effects of acyclovir
Acyclovir can make your drowsy. So, you are advised not to take alcohol or other intoxicating substances like cannabis (marijuana). In general, you are advised to avoid items that can make you feel drowsy or dizzy. For the same reason, it is not a good practice to drive or operate heavy machines soon after taking acyclovir. If your lifestyle includes daily intake of alcohol or substance abuse, you need to keep your medical team informed of such habits.
It is also important to inform your treating doctor if you have renal conditions or if you have had a recent transplantation procedure – i.e., transplantation of kidney or bone marrow. It is equally important to tell your surgeon about intake of acyclovir if you are planning to undergo a surgical or dental intervention. This is essential because acyclovir may influence anesthetic drugs administered as part of pre-surgical protocols. Elderly people with renal dysfunction need to be more cautious as acyclovir can trigger some severe reactions. Common allergies and side effects elders or older people are likely to experience include severe spells of drowsiness, passing out, mood shifts such as anxiety, depression, etc.
Women who are pregnant must take acyclovir only if it is very essential. You are advised to talk to your treating physician in order to fully understand the possible risks and other implications. Also, women who are nursing a baby need to know that acyclovir can get into their breastmilk. In general, acyclovir is not known to cause problems to the infant; however, you need to check with your physician about how safe it is for your newly born baby.
Risks of an overdose of acyclovir
You can prevent possible risks of an overdose by avoiding double-doses of acyclovir. Double-dosing may occur when you have forgotten to take a dose, and try to make up for it by doubling the dosage. It is not a good practice to take such double doses. So, if you have missed a dose, skip it and wait for the next dose. What if you have skipped many doses continuously? In such instances, take needful support from your pharmacist to reschedule your entire dosage plan. How to tell if you have taken an overdose of acyclovir? The signs characteristic to an overdosed condition can help detect it. Common signs of a possible overdose include weariness, being in an agitated state of mind, convulsions or fits, breathing problems such as gasping for breath, wheezing, passing out, etc. If you are in the US, call 911 to avail immediate medical attention or reach out to a local poison control center as promptly as possible.
In sum, acyclovir is an antiviral medication used against viral strands such as herpes simplex virus (both type I and II), varicella zoster and Epstein-Barr viruses. This drug helps prevent the spread of herpes virus by inhibiting the progression of its attacks. It is also prescribed to people with a compromised immune system. Acyclovir may cause a few minor side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, etc. These adverse effects may disappear once your body gets used to this drug’s ingredients. It is known to trigger acute side effects rarely. Such serious side effects include drowsiness, symptoms of renal dysfunction – such as discharge of urine in larger quantities and pain in the rear of abdomen, etc. In rare instances, this drug has triggered conditions like slurring of speech, mood shifts and tremors. If any of these signs show up and persist for long, consult your pharmacist or treating physician immediately. It is recommended to take needful medical attention promptly.