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Cold Sore Treatments

by Brad McHargue
  • Overview

    Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are a contagious viral disease caused by the herpes simplex 1 and are often confused with canker sores, or mouth ulcers. They are characterized by small, painful blisters that typically appear on or around the mouth, and the formation of the blisters is often preceded by a tingling or burning sensation by a couple of days. Cold sores can also appear on the fingers, nostrils and chin, though this is rare. Treatment involves medication, topical ointments and simply leaving the blisters alone.
  • Medical Treatment

    Cold sores typically clear up on their own, so medical treatment is usually not needed. However, medications designed for treatment of the herpes simplex virus 2, which causes genital herpes, are often utilized to treat oral herpes, especially in those who experience chronic cold sores. The three drugs often used to treat genital herpes are acyclovir, valacyclovir and famcyclovir. A study in the March 2003 edition of the journal "Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy" concluded that a one-day course of valacyclovir (Valtrex®) is an effective and safe way to treat oral herpes. The drug comes in pill form and is taken at the onset of symptoms, then again approximately 12 hours later.
  • Topical Treatment

    A number of topical treatments exist to alleviate the symptoms associated with cold sores and to reduce the duration of the virus. These include the prescription drugs acyclovir (Zovirax®) and penciclovir (Denavir®). They are used by placing the cream or ointment directly on the sore, and can even be used on the source of the pain that precedes the appearance of blisters (known as the prodrome). In addition to prescription medication, over-the-counter topical ointments containing lidocaine or benzyl alcohol work by alleviating symptoms and numbing the area to prevent the sensation of pain. Unfortunately, these do not treat the virus itself, and may in fact prevent healing due to repeated use. The only Federal Drug Administration-approved medication for oral herpes that can be bought over-the-counter is Abreva®, which not only treats the symptoms but speeds the healing process.
  • Prevention

    The virus that causes oral herpes is highly contagious; therefore, the first line of defense is avoiding direct contact with those infected. This involves abstinence from kissing and the sharing of items, especially drinks, chapstick and utensils. Additionally, proper hygiene such as washing your hands after coming into contact with someone who has the virus will help decrease the risk of becoming infected.
  • Alternate Remedies

    Alternate remedies are sparse, and are relegated primarily to the application of warm and cold compresses to help alleviate pain and residual swelling, as well as abstaining from picking or scratching the blisters. Additionally, avoiding foods that might exacerbate the pain is recommended. These can include spicy foods, foods with a high salt content, or acidic drinks such as sodas and orange juice. In the end, simply leaving the blisters alone with help aid healing and prevent the spreading of the virus.

    References & Resources