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Over-the-Counter Cold Sore Treatments


By Staff Writer

Cold Sore TreatmentsCold sores and fever blisters are painful, fluid-filled blisters on or near the lips caused by a virus called herpes simplex type 1. Cold sores are contagious and spread by touch. An over-the-counter medicine called docosanol (brand name Abreva®) may help cold sores heal faster and reduce symptoms. Studies show that Abreva can help cold sores heal one day sooner than when no drug is used. When applied at the earliest stages of an outbreak, Abreva may help prevent a blister from forming. Other over-the-counter products can help relieve the discomfort of cold sores but won’t help them go away faster. To relieve dryness and help keep the sores soft, use products containing the ingredients allantoin, petrolatum or cocoa butter. Examples of these products include Blistex® and Carmex®. For pain relief, try products that contain local anesthetics. Anbesol® contains benzocaine and Zilactin® Cold Sore Relief contains benzyl alcohol to relieve pain. You can also use pain relievers such as acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (brand name Advil®). If a cold sore becomes infected, apply an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin® three to four times a day. If sun exposure tends to reactivate your cold sores, use a lip balm with sunscreen. Talk to your doctor about prescription therapy if over-the-counter medicines don't relieve your discomfort or if the sores remain for more than 14 days.

Sources: Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. American Pharmaceutical Association, 2000.Drug Facts and Comparisons, Facts & Comparisons, 2007.Abreva Product Information. GlaxoSmithKline, 2007.Diseases and Conditions, “Cold sore.” http://www.mayoclinic.com. Mayo Clinic Health. Last accessed 1/11/2007.This answer prepared 10/21/2000. This information updated 1/11/2007.

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