Healthcare providers can prescribe antiviral medications to help cold sores heal faster and prevent future outbreaks. Ointments and at-home remedies might also alleviate the symptoms associated with painful, oozing cold sores. There is no cure for the virus that causes cold sores.
The best way to treat a cold sore is with prescription antiviral medications, such as:
Prescription medications can dramatically reduce the number, severity, and length of outbreaks, particularly for those who get cold sores often.
These prescription medications work best when taken as soon as the first signs of cold sores appear. They can also help prevent future outbreaks, so people who get cold sores often might take one of these medications regularly.
Cold Sore Ointments
For those who rarely get cold sores or can’t get a prescription quickly, over-the-counter and prescription ointments can help alleviate the symptoms of cold sores in one or more of these ways:
- Numbing painful blisters.
- Softening the crusts that form after the blisters burst.
- Drying out open sores.
You can also try a number of simple DIY treatments to find relief when dealing with cold sores. These at-home remedies include:
- Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Applying iced or warm washcloths to the blisters or sores to alleviate pain.
- Washing the area gently with antiseptic soap and water.
- Rinsing the sores with salt water.
- Gargling cool water or eating popsicles.
- Avoiding hot, spicy, salty, or citrus foods.
- Wearing lip balm with sunblock.
The Cold Sore Virus
Type 1 of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) is the most common cause of cold sores. This virus is very common; more than half of the U.S. population is infected with HSV-1 by the time they are in their 20s.
There is no cure for HSV-1. In between outbreaks, it lies dormant in the body. Some people infected with the virus have no symptoms.