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What to do if you have a cold sore

Get early treatment. The earlier you treat a cold sore, the better. In fact, the best time to start treatment is as soon as you feel the telltale tingle. The standard treatment is aciclovir cream, applied five times a day for 5 days. If your cold sore is on the lips, you may have to reapply the cream after eating or drinking. Aciclovir is an antiviral drug that prevents the virus from multiplying and speeds up healing. You can buy it from pharmacies without a prescription. (Another antiviral cream, penciclovir, is available, but requires a doctor’s prescription in the UK, and needs to be applied more frequently than aciclovir.)

Do not expect miracles from the cream. If you start treatment early enough, it will shorten the attack from about 8 days to about 6 days (Journal of Family Practice 2004;53:923–4). If you often get recurrences, it makes sense to ensure that you have a supply of antiviral cream in readiness, so that you can start treatment promptly.
Dry the sore up or keep it moist? This is a dilemma, because a sore that is oozing does not look very nice. Some people like to dry it by dabbing on surgical spirit or witch hazel (from a pharmacy), or even gin or vodka. However, it is possible that cold sores heal better when they are kept moist. Of course, aciclovir cream will keep it moist as well as having a specific antiviral action. Tea tree oil, or oil from a vitamin A or vitamin C capsule, are other methods of keeping it moist and may reduce inflammation slightly.
Be hygienic. Hygiene is important, because you do not want a bacterial infection to move in.
  • Try not to touch the sore with your hands.
  • If you apply any cream or oil to the sore, use a new cotton-wool bud each time.
  • To wash the area, dab it gently with a moistened tissue. Do not apply any disinfectant, because this may be too harsh for the damaged skin.

Protect your eyes. Herpes simplex can cause a nasty eye infection, so take care.
  • Be careful when applying eye make-up – it is easy to touch your cold sore without realizing it.
  • Wash your hands very thoroughly before putting in contact lenses (this is one reason why you should never use saliva to moisten contact lenses).
  • If your eye does become sore, see your doctor straight away.

Do not infect anyone who is vulnerable. Although herpes simplex is not normally a damaging virus, it can cause serious problems in people whose immune system is poor.
  • Keep away from babies.
  • Do not kiss anyone who is unwell for any reason, or who is pregnant, old, or has eczema (herpes can cause a nasty infection in skin already affected by eczema).
  • Do not share your toothbrush or eating utensils with anyone (because the virus can be passed in saliva).
  • Do not give oral sex to anyone until the sore has healed completely, or you could be giving them genital herpes.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Saturday, February 13th 2010


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Comments on this article

Posted by Optional on 17/05/2017 at 02:34

Try combination of bactine and then tee tree oil. Itll scab in about 24hrs and then I keep adding tto and moisturize it to minimize scabbing

Posted by Optional on 25/11/2014 at 10:19

I've been getting these for over 15 years and have tried just about everything. The only thing that works is PREVENTION. I take lysine daily from and I've gone 3 years w/o an outbreak until today. I watch what I eat but I've been eating chocolate again which for us is a big no no. Google herpes diet and it will list foods to avoid. For me its oats, chocolate, gravy, orange juice just to name a few. By taking 2 lysine pills a day in able to eat some of these foods in moderation. But never OATS of any kind. I really miss breakfast cereals. But I've never found anything to eliminate a cold sore once it starts. Putting anything on it such as Chapstick, Vaseline, deodorant, abreva etc only makes it worse. And if it gets wet in the shower or from eating or drinking it's like putting gas on a fire. So I keep it as dry as possible and let it run its course. I hope this helps somebody. The lysine from Dynamiclear is the only thing that has worked for me and I reccomend it highly. I know these cold sores are embarrassing but they are very common.

Posted by outcast on 21/12/2011 at 05:33

it is true you can give them to someones genitals !! i have giving it to someone and it is a terrible experience to go trough !! so i urge all of you who suffer from it to be careful. take it from me you don't want to go through that let alone put another trough it

Posted by Optional on 21/12/2011 at 05:27

i have been made fun of since i was a boy for these and im sure for most of you you see ppl looking at them and you feel like a mutant thats why i always buy the most expensive stuff there is !!! i get them whenever i touch my lips or stretch them . but once it blisters thers no hope but if anyone can help me . i have a friend who pops it soon as it blisters he says it makes it pass quiker ..... is this true ?? i just started dating a girl and now i gotta dodge her for like 2 weeks

Posted by Optional on 08/11/2011 at 09:10

i have used a virulite cold sore machine for a few yaers now . It uses a light beam close to the wave length of the lazers they use for skin problem and i and my daughter and a freind all find this very effective in reducing the healing time and pain and ithciness.

Posted by Optional on 27/06/2011 at 07:52

I'v had a cold sore for about 3 days now is there anything I can do?

Posted by Optional on 05/03/2011 at 07:59

I get cold sores occasionally. Usually, this occurs from stress or sun exposure. The only things that seems to help is ice. Ice seems to stop the cold sore from getting worse. Its significant enought that it heals in half the time.

Posted by Optional on 27/12/2010 at 04:17

Always occur at times of stress. I work outdoors so will try the sunblock cream suggestion.

Posted by Doc on 22/12/2010 at 05:49

I am writing this comment in hopes of helping others. You will often get misinformation out there. I have seen youtube videos or articles of people putting everything on it from after shave, to deodorant. Refrain from ALL of that. I got a cold sore 2 days ago that literally developed overnight and started progressing fast and it's already in the healing stage due to the below treatment methods. Use a Q-tip with peroxide and clean the sore well. Use another Q-tip to Apply a thin layer of Abreva (apparently the only FDA approved ointment that you can get at any pharmacy). Lastly, use another Q-tip to apply a thin layer of Carmex to your entire lips, making sure you go over the infected area LAST- to avoid spreading it to other parts of the lips. Just dab it lightly over the infected area. Repeat the above steps 3-6 times a day (the more the better). Avoid salty foods or rubbing the cream/lubrication off with food. This WILL work!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Optional on 06/10/2010 at 04:40

Do not touch the herpe. do not kiss anyone, makeout with anyone, or give oral. this will pass the herpes on, and they can get it on there genitals, mouth or face. Dont be embarassed. It is normal!

Posted by Optional on 08/07/2010 at 10:26

I have sufferd for a long time and i find that putting tea tree oil on it 5 times a day and to was use a cheap face wash to keep it clean gud luck

Posted by Anonymous on 24/10/2009 at 01:18

To treat my cold sore I use Blistex Antiviral cream with Aciclovir and Blackmores Lyp-sine tablets which prevent the cold sore altogether (if I act as soon as the tingle happens) or it reduces the healing time by about 4 days. I always get my cold sore in the same place, is it the same for other people?

Posted by Anonymous on 23/10/2009 at 10:01

when ever i am tired i know that im going to get a cold sore the next day, this is happened to me since i was 6. what i want to know is why? my job at the office keeps me up to the late evenings so how can i stop them from expolding on my face

Posted by Anonymous on 09/09/2009 at 04:50

I recently discovered i have the HSV-1 cold sore virus, I had a dry uncomfortable sensation in my left eye, then very bloodshot... it turns out the blemishes under my lip were not pimples but cold sores, after touching them and then my eye i now have a severe viral eye infection. My doctor prescribed me oral famvir to fight the HSV-1 virus in my lip, along with an oral antibiotic as well as eyedrop antibiotic and anti-inflammatory to take care of my eye. all from one cheeky drunken kiss with a girl i wasnt all that keen on... :(

Posted by Anonymous on 19/08/2009 at 12:09

i find that changing brands of coldsore cream (including the own brand half the price products)each time and during really helps reduce the inflamation/erruption.

Posted by Juney on 14/08/2009 at 02:15

years and years ive been suffering from cold sores tryed everything possible, dont no if ive found a cure but found in my experience when i feel as if im getting a col sore i start by putting aftershave or perfume on it, it really stops it from progressing, please give me some feed back from others if it works for you.

Posted by MEG2U2 on 23/04/2009 at 10:01

I suffer from cold sores,I have 4 at present 3 on my bottom lip and one on the upper.These can be very painful and eating and drinking causes problems.I have tried allsorts of creams and lotions and find nothing works,so I just let nature take it's course and stay indoors till they go away.If anyone has any new creams to try I would love to hear about them.


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