Cold Sore Treatment

What are cold sores?

Cold sores (also known as fever blisters) are lesions on the lips or around the mouth that are caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Even though they are small in size, they can be extremely painful. There is no cure for HSV infection, but early medical treatment can speed your healing process and reduce symptoms. Home-care measures can also help relieve the pain.

What are the medical treatments for cold sores?

Prescription antiviral medications, including acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex), can reduce the duration and severity of your cold sore, but to be most effective, these need to be started within 48 hours of the appearance of the first symptoms. Docosanol (Abreva) is an over-the-counter agent that has been FDA approved to reduce the duration of cold sores and relieve symptoms. Abreva is not recommended for children under 12 years of age. Topical medications that contain phenol, benzocaine, or other anesthetic agents can be used for pain relief, but these do not reduce the duration of the outbreak. Topical agents for cold sores may also contain skin protectants like zinc oxide, calamine, or petrolatum that work to soften skin and decrease cracking. Acetaminophen can also help relieve your pain.

Are there home remedies for cold sores?

People who prefer natural measures for cold sore relief often find that applying ice to the affected area helps reduce pain. As with any ulcer or sore around the mouth, you should avoid spicy or acidic foods. Although some health-food stores recommend lysine, there is no evidence to show that lysine has any effect on cold sores.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


Pray, W. Steven. "Preventing and Treating Cold Sores." US Pharmacist 32.4 (2007): 16-23. <>.