How can I treat cold sores?

Treating Cold Sores

Experiencing cold sores? Or do you feel tingling of your lips that commonly occurs before a breakout? Below are some proven strategies to quickly get you on the road to recovery.

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are small blisters around your mouth as a result of the Herpes simplex virus. Episodes of the cold sores last no longer than 2 weeks. Cold sores cannot be cured. However, early treatment can help relieve some symptoms and lead to faster recovery.

Treatment Options

Cold sores typically take about 1 to 3 weeks on their own.
Treatment may include:

  • Antiviral topical ointments (such as acyclovir and penciclovir)
  • Antiviral oral medications (such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir)
  • Over-the-counter topical anesthetics or anti-inflammatory agents may help with symptoms  

Antiviral medications may help speed the healing process, but are usually not recommended for otherwise healthy people. Also, they need to be started within 3 days of seeing the first blister.

Over-the-counter cold sore ointments docosanol (Abreva) and Zilactin have been shown to shorten the healing time of a cold sore. At the first sign of symptoms, apply it to the affected skin as directed on the package.

Other Options:

To ease the discomfort of a cold sore:

  • Try other cold sore remedies. Some over-the-counter preparations contain a drying agent, such as alcohol, that may speed healing.
  • Balms & Creams: Protect your lips from the sun with a zinc oxide cream or lip balm with sunblock. If your lips become dry, apply a moisturizing cream.
  • Apply a cool compress: Ice or a cool, damp cloth may reduce redness, help remove crusting and promote healing. Place ice on the sores 3 times a day for 20 minutes each time.
  • Apply pain-relieving creams: Over-the-counter creams with numbing agents like lidocaine or benzocaine may offer temporary pain relief.

Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol: Both can be used to keep cold sores clean.

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