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The Best Home, Over-the-counter & Prescription Cold Sore Remedies!

Approximately 50 percent of the adult population in the United States has oral herpes, typically caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Oral herpes is commonly referred to as “cold sores” and “fever blisters.” You have most likely seen someone experiencing an oral herpes outbreak before. This article outlines the different types of cold sore treatments including DIY, over-the-counter and prescription antiviral medication. Try these cold sore remedies, but be aware that they may not help everyone in the same way.

Close up of human lips, symbolizing cold sore treatment options.

Home Treatments:

  • Lemon Balm: The antiviral properties of lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, may help reduce the redness and swelling associated with a blister or protect against future infections

  • Ice: Ice may not reduce the duration of a breakout, but it can ease the discomfort and inflammation of cold sores. Apply a cold pack directly to the sores for temporary relief.

  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera gel is widely available and can be grown as a houseplant. While research connecting the plant to cold sores is limited, one in vitro 2016 study showed that its anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects could have inhibitory effects.

  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen not only protects your lips while the cold sore is healing, but it can also reduce future outbreaks when worn daily on the lips.

  • Stress reduction: Because stress can cause the herpes virus to come out of dormancy, reducing the amount of stress in your life is one way to prevent cold sores. Meditation, regular exercise, and avoiding the causes of stress in your life may help.

A woman standing in front of a mirror applying an over-the-counter cold sore treatment to her lips.

Over-the-counter Treatments:

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: Both of these over-the-counter medications can help ease the pain associated with a cold sore.

  • OTC antiviral medication: Use a synthetic or natural form of docosanol, a long chain alcohol “Active” ingredient, which has been clinically proven to help speed the healing process. Studies show that the array of naturally occurring long chain alcohols isolated from jojoba oil can be 50 times stronger in fighting cold sores as compared to a synthetic docosanol active ingredient. Therefore, consider trying Naturally Medicated Blister Balm® products comprised of natural docosanol, plus eleven other natural long chain alcohols to combat HSV-1 outbreaks.

  • Lysine Supplements: Lysine is an essential amino acid necessary for good nutrition and for maintaining a healthy immune system.  While some studies have suggested that lysine supplements taken orally can reduce the frequency of recurrences or healing time, other trials have been unable to replicate those results. Therefore, there is not sufficient information to discern how effective it may be, particularly for topical application to treat cold sore episodes.  

A pink cold sore prescription medicine bottle poured out on a table.

Prescription Antiviral Medication:

Cold sores will usually go away on their own after a few days, but there are several prescription treatments that can help speed up that healing time. Topical drugs are put directly on the lesions themselves, but can also be used at the onset of prodrome. There are two topical antiviral medications prescribed for the treatment of oral HSV symptoms:

  • acyclovir ointment (Zovirax®)
  • penciclovir cream (Denavir®)

If you experience several outbreaks a year, you can even take oral antiviral medication all year round to help prevent outbreaks. These treatments include:

  • valacyclovir oral (Valtrex®)
  • famciclovir oral (Famvir®)

Try all of these home, over-the-counter and if necessary prescription cold sore remedies to find which works best for you. Unfortunately there is no cure for oral herpes, but many people find that outbreaks tend to lessen in severity and frequency with time. What triggers an outbreak is highly individual, but with time, many people learn to recognize, and sometimes avoid, factors that seem to reactivate HSV in their own bodies.