Cold Sores Treatment: What Works & What Hurts

Cold Sores Treatment

Cold sores are so painful and embarrassing. You’re not alone if you have red, painful bumps and blisters, around your lips, mouth or nose. In the world today, more than half of Americans ages 14 to 49 carry the virus that causes cold sores (herpes simplex virus). This virus is easily contracted via skin-to-skin contacts and stays in the body permanently even after the cold sores has healed completely.

It’s important to know the cold sores are different from canker sores. Canker sores are not caused by a virus and usually occur inside of your mouth mainly on the tongue, gums, roof of the mouth and so on. Cold sores on the other hand is caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). Generally, after the first infection, the virus that causes cold sores stays dormant in the body, hiding inside the nerve cells of the face. Provided that the HSV virus remains dormant (asleep) in your body, you won’t have any symptoms unless it is activated. Luckily, many carriers of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) never experience symptoms or an outbreak in their lifetime because the virus never become activated.

So, depending on the number of times the virus gets activated, cold sores may appear just once in a person’s lifetime or return again and again. Each time they show up, cold sores usually appear as red, fluid-filled blisters around the lips and occasionally on the nose or cheeks or anywhere else on the skin. These sores are very painful and contagious, but the symptoms are often mistaken for canker sores.


When someone does experience a breakout, the symptoms usually lasts for a few days after the exposure to the HSV virus. Normally, cold sores caused by HSV-1 often last little over a week or two and then clear up on their own even without treatments. After the first infection, the virus remains in your nerve endings and breaks out during times when your immune system are weak, most especially when you’re sick, have a fever, get a sunburn, or stressed. In most cases, people usually experience itching, burning or tingling sensation around the edge of their lips for about 24 to 48 hours.

Some few days after the sensations, small, hard, fluid-filled blisters begin to form on the lips, nose, cheeks, or other parts of the face. At first, the blisters will appear clear, then cloudy as the body’s immune cells starts to fight off the infection. At this point, the virus is highly contagious and can spread to other people or to other parts of the body such as the eyes or the genitals. However, the symptoms experienced during the initial infection of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the most severe because the body has yet to build up its defenses to the virus. Cold sores symptoms includes:

  • swollen lymph glands
  • red , fluid-filled blisters
  • fever
  • muscle pain plus general body weakness
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • tiredness
  • itching and irritation of affected areas
  • constant headache
  • difficulty swallowing

Cold sores treatment

To avoid cold sores completely is very difficult. Once you have the virus, they stay dormant in your body permanently, making you susceptible to future outbreaks. When you’re first exposed to the herpes simplex virus, you’re likely to get a cold sore. After a week or two, the sores should go away on their own. Well, the best way to prevent or treat cold sores from flaring up frequently is to keep your immune system strong. Luckily, below is a number of ways to treat the pain and help manage your symptoms.

1. Medications

There are variety of topical antibiotic ointments and creams that are applied directly on the cold sores to shorten the healing time for cold sores and help relieve the itching and burning symptoms. Some medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help to reduce the pain and promote healing. Moreover, over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) can alleviate pain, swelling, and irritation caused by blisters or open sores. Although, the application of antiviral ointments directly to your cold sores is helpful, but always remember to wash your hands immediately after applying topical medicines.

2. Ice compress 

This particular remedy will not heal the sores directly but they can numb the area and reduce the pain. Get some ice and wrap it up with a small towel. Place the cool, wet towel on the cold sores for about 5 to 10 minutes. You can do this a few times each day to help reduce the redness and irritation.

3. Apply aloe vera gel

Aloe vera gel contains a powerful anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. According to studies, the gel is very effective when it comes to fighting skin infections and viruses, including herpes simplex virus (HSV). Apply some aloe vera gel directly on the sores every day to soothe the inflamed sores, provide the needed moisture and also promote the healing process.

4. Eat healthy foods

Ensure to eat enough healthy foods each day to help boost your immune system. Certain nutrients such as Vitamin C can boost the levels of white cells, which are the body’s main infection-fighting cells. Vitamin E on the other hand helps the body to repair damaged skin cells and grow new ones. Some foods including – nuts, milk, whole wheats, leafy green, berries, peppers, kiwis, broccoli, and spinach contains much of these needed vitamins and minerals.

5. Avoid cold sores triggers

Try as much as possible to keep the area clean at all times, avoid applying make-up over cold sores. You can keep the sores clean by rubbing hydrogen peroxide and alcohol over them. Most importantly, stay away from foods that can worsen your symptoms. Although, it’s okay to eat healthy foods, but they should not include anything acidic, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes or coffee, as they tend to irritate cold sores and prolong symptoms. Excessive exposure to sunlight and lots of stress can also prolong the symptoms. Try to stay away from cold sores triggers to shorten the healing time and also keep it from getting worse. Check here to see – list of cold sores triggers.

Final Thoughts

Unlike canker sores and numerous other oral problems, cold sores are highly contagious. People with active sores caused by Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) can transmit a form of genital herpes to their partners by direct contact. Until your cold sores has healed completely, try to avoid kissing, engaging in any intimate activities or sharing your personal items that may have come in contact with your cold sores.

Well, cold sores should clear up after 8 to 12 days on their own, even without treatments. In my previous post, I explained more on – how long a cold sore should last. In addition, if you start to develop symptoms of a cold sore outbreak, and especially if outbreaks are recurrent, talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for your age, medical history, and lifestyle. Don’t take any medication without the consent of a health professional.

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