Cold sores are small, painful blisters that appear on or around the lips. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), and are contagious. There is no cure for cold sores, but there are treatments that can help to shorten their healing time and relieve pain.
Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments
There are a number of OTC treatments available for cold sores, including:
- Topical creams and ointments: These products contain ingredients that can help to speed healing and reduce pain. Examples of topical creams and ointments for cold sores include docosanol (Abreva) and penciclovir (Denavir).
- Lip balms: Lip balms can help to keep lips moist and prevent them from cracking, which can make cold sores more painful. Look for lip balms that contain ingredients such as lysine or zinc, which have antiviral properties.
- Pain relievers: Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help to reduce pain from cold sores.
If OTC treatments are not effective, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication, such as an antiviral oral medication. Antiviral oral medications can help to shorten the healing time of cold sores and reduce the risk of recurrences. Examples of antiviral oral medications for cold sores include acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex).
There are a number of home remedies that may help to relieve the symptoms of cold sores, including:
- Applying ice: Ice can help to reduce pain and swelling.
- Using a warm compress: A warm compress can help to soften scabs and promote healing.
- Avoiding acidic foods: Acidic foods can irritate cold sores and make them more painful.
- Avoiding touching cold sores: Touching cold sores can spread the virus to other parts of your body.
There is no vaccine to prevent cold sores, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting them, including:
- Avoiding contact with people who have cold sores: Cold sores are contagious, so it is important to avoid contact with people who have them.
- Not sharing personal items: Sharing personal items, such as lip balm or towels, can spread the virus.
- Managing stress: Stress can trigger cold sores, so finding ways to manage stress can help to prevent them.
If you have any concerns about cold sores, talk to your doctor. They can help you to find the best treatment for your symptoms.