Cold Sore Treatments

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores often spring up on the lips, under the nose and chin, or the gums or roof of the mouth in the form of painful pus-filled blisters. Cold sores are highly contagious and caused by the herpes simplex virus. An individual may feel tingling or pain around the affected area one to two days before an actual outbreak occurs. Cold sores generally clear in seven to ten days on their own, however various cold sore treatments can be used to clear up an outbreak faster.

Diagnosing Cold Sores

Sometimes canker sores are mistaken for cold sores. To determine proper diagnosis, a doctor can examine the affected area or runs tests (culture, positive antibody test) to detect the presence of the herpes simplex virus(HSV). Although a positive antibody test does not prove that the HSV is active, it does prove whether or not the virus is present inside of the body.

Treatments for Cold Sores

There is presently no cure for curing the HSV or a cold sore. However, the pain from a cold sore can be alleviated by avoiding spicy or acidic foods, applying ice and using numbing medicines like phenol and menthol to soften cold sore scabs. In addition, cold sores can be treated using the following remedies:

  • Over-the-counter
  • Prescription medicines
  • Natural/alternative


Approved on July 2000, Abreva is an OTC 10% topical cream formulated to treat frequent episodes of cold sores or fever blisters. The ingredient n-docosanol, plays a major role in antiviral activity against the HSV as well as many other lipid encased viruses. Abreva works to minimize pain and accelerate healing of a cold sore and must be applied several times a day to alleviate symptoms. A very serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, swelling of the tongue or throat, dizziness, rash or breathing trouble may occur in some individuals which will require immediate medical attention.

Blistex is a combination topical medicine that contains camphor, phenol and allantoin used to treat pain, itching, or severe dry lips caused by cold sores. For best results, it’s best to use this medicine when cold sore symptoms are first noticed, such as tingling, itching, or other discomfort. This medicine will not cure herpes simplex, the virus that causes cold sores.

Prescription Medications

If a cold sore is unusually painful or irritating, a doctor may prescribe an anesthetic gel or an oral antiviral medication, such as Zovirax (acyclovir), Famvir famciclovir), or Valtrex (valacyclovir) to accelerate healing or prevent future breakouts. Oral medications such as these are best used when started within the first two days of the outbreak.

Out of the three oral medicines, Valacyclovir costs more, but is more effective and reliable, since it is absorbed in the digestive tract. Although Valacyclovir can’t kill the herpes virus, it can impede its growth in order to give the body time to fight the infection. Valacyclovir can be used to treat cold sores for children who are 12 years old or older.

Penocyclovir (Denovir) is another cream medication that can quickly alleviate cold sores. It also works to slow HSV’s growth but should not be used by individuals with a weak immune system, individuals who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who want to become pregnant; individuals who have allergies to various substances, food or medicine; and individuals taking prescription medicine, dietary or herbal supplements.

Cold sores can become even more problematic by a bacterial infection, so it is important for the sufferer to gently clean the affected area with soap and water as needed.

Natural Cold Sore Treatments

There are also several natural cold sore treatments available for minimizing the symptoms of cold sores. Before taking any alternative medicine, first consult with a primary care doctor. Here are some natural remedies to consider:

1) Lysine

Lysine is an essential amino acid that humans need to fight infections. There is strong indication by preliminary studies that lysine may inhibit the herpes simplex virus and shorten the duration of cold sores. Aside from getting lysine in red meat, dairy products, eggs, wheat germ, brewers yeast and fish, lysine is also available in supplement form and in an ointment.

2) Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis, commonly known as lemon balm, showed promise in hospitals and dermatology clinics in Germany as an herb that may have antiviral properties. The research study revealed that the healing of blisters happened in 5 days among participants who used the lemon balm cream compared to 10 days among those in the control group. With regular use, lemon balm cream may help to reduce the frequency of recurring infections.

3) Reishi and Astragalus

A type of mushroom used in Chinese medicine to strengthen the immune system known as Ganoderma lucidum or reishi, may inhibit the spread of the herpes virus and is available in powder or supplement form. Reishi is often combined with astragalus to enhance and improve immune function. Consult with a doctor before taking reishi since its properties can inhibit blood clotting.

4) Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a natural compound found in red grapes, that may suppress the herpes simplex virus according to lab study conducted by Northeastern Ohio University and may be just as effective as a 5 percent dose of Zovirax ointment. Resveratrol cream proved most effective at combating cold sores when applied between 2 to 5 times per day when applied 1 or 6 hours after infection with the herpes virus.

5) Peppermint Oil

The volatile nature of peppermint oil when penetrating the skin appears to have an anti-viral effect on the herpes simplex virus according to a study conducted by the University of Heidelberg. Peppermint oil has especially been seen to be effective against an acyclovir-resistant strain of the herpes simpex virus. However, not much is known about peppermint’s safety of use long term, since even small amounts of the oil could potentially be toxic. Peppermint oil should not be ingested.

6) Propolis

Also known as bee propolis, propolis is sold in health food stores as a brownish, resinous substance that bees collect from poplar and conifer buds to glue their hives and to keep them free of germs. Propolis may work by not only preventing the virus from invading body cells but also by blocking the replication and spread of the virus.

7) Self-Heal

The herb self-heal (Prunella vulgarisis) found in China and Europe is a perennial plant that has been found to be effective against both herpes simplex 1 and 2 and is sold as an extract.

Developing cold sores can be an annoying, recurring issue that the sufferer wants to get rid of as soon as possible. Although there is no cure for the herpes simplex virus, a cold sore treatment may be found in the form of an over-the-counter, prescribed or alternative medicine that is able to suppress an infection and also prevent future cold sore infections. During the course of a cold sore treatment, it’s important to remember to always wash the hands and not rub the eyes after touch the infected area. Also, discard items that come in contact with the face to prevent a future outbreak.