Early Treatment of Cold Sores: Everything You Need to Know

Currently, there is no cure for cold sores. The herpes simplex virus causes these painful blisters that appear on or around your lips (HSV-1). In approximately ten days, if you have a healthy immune system, they should clear up.

Although cold sores cannot be cured overnight, certain treatments can reduce their duration. As soon as you feel tingling or itching around your mouth, you should start treating a cold sore. These symptoms may occur a few days prior to blister formation.

What is a Fever Blister?

A cold sore is a fluid-filled blister that can appear near or in the mouth, as well as on the fingers, nose, and occasionally the nose. These red lesions frequently appear in clusters and can last up to two weeks.

Causes of Fever Blisters

Herpes simplex virus is responsible for cold sores. Herpes simplex type 1 typically causes fever blisters, whereas type 2 typically causes genital herpes. The blisters caused by both strains of the virus have a similar appearance.

Cold sores are infectious when they are visible, but they can also spread when they are not. The herpes simplex virus is transmitted through physical contact, such as kissing, the use of contaminated cosmetics, and food sharing.

Before a cold sore appears, you may experience tingling or burning in your mouth or face. This stage can last a few days before the blister becomes visible, and it is the most effective time to treat the infection.

In this article, we evaluate eight treatments for early-stage cold sores and explain how you can use them to potentially shorten the duration of an outbreak.

cold sore

8 Treatments For Early Stage Cold Sore

1. Lysine

Lysine is an amino acid that may inhibit the spread of the herpes simplex virus.

According to a small 1987 study, lysine tablets may reduce the frequency and severity of herpes simplex virus outbreaks. Lysine may also speed up the healing process. Consult your physician before using lysine to treat cold sores, as there is insufficient evidence to support its use.

2. Propolis

Bees collect propolis from plant sources and use it to seal cracks in their hives. Antiviral and rich in antioxidants, propolis is believed to possess antiviral properties.

According to research, propolis may prevent the replication of the herpes simplex virus. According to a 2002 study conducted on rats and rabbits, a 5% propolis ointment improved symptoms of active HSV-1 infection by preventing symptoms.

For human consumption, a 3 percent concentration of propolis is available.

3. Rhubarb and Sage

A topical cream containing rhubarb and sage may be as effective for treating cold sores as the topical cream form of the antiviral medication acyclovir (Zovirax).

According to the study, rhubarb and sage cream helped heal cold sores in six to seven days. The duration of healing with acyclovir cream was 6 1/2 days, while the duration of healing with sage cream alone was 7 to 8 days.

4. Zinc

Creams containing zinc oxide (Desitin, Triple Paste) may reduce the duration of cold sores.

In a small study conducted in 2001, cold sores treated with zinc oxide healed 1.5 days faster than those treated with a placebo. Additionally, zinc oxide reduced blistering, pain, itching, and tingling.

5. Licorice Root

According to a 2015 review of research, licorice root has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Its antiviral properties inhibited the replication of viruses, while its antibacterial properties inhibited bacterial function. This study revealed that licorice also possessed antifungal properties. Together with a cream or moisturizer, licorice root extract can be used to target and treat cold sores.

6. Lemon Balm

A 1994 study found that lemon balm extract possesses antiviral properties. The research demonstrated that lemon balm protects against the herpes simplex virus. Additionally, researchers discovered that treating a cold sore with lemon balm in its earliest stages was the most effective. It has been demonstrated that lemon balm reduces healing time and some symptoms of cold sores.

7. Cool Compress

A cold compress applied to a cold sore is also soothing. The application of cold can reduce swelling, redness, and discoloration. Additionally, it can alleviate inflammation by numbing the stinging and burning of a cold sore and removing crusty areas. Applying ice to a cold sore at the first sign of tingling can also reduce the severity of the pain. Utilize a reusable gel ice pack or make a cold compress yourself.

cold sore

8. Prescription Antivirals

Your physician may prescribe an antiviral medication to treat a cold sore. The majority of antivirals are available in tablet or topical cream form, while others can be administered intravenously. They can be used to shorten the duration of an acute outbreak or prevent future outbreaks.

Even if blisters have not yet formed, it is crucial to begin antiviral therapy as soon as you feel a cold sore developing in order to reduce the likelihood of a severe outbreak.

Some prescription antivirals are:

  • acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • famciclovir (Famvir)
  • valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • penciclovir (Denavir)

Since prescription antivirals are potent and may cause rare but harmful side effects such as kidney damage, allergic reaction, and hepatitis, they are typically reserved for individuals with severe cold sore outbreaks or a compromised immune system.

How to Prevent a Cold Sore From Spreading?

Stress and illness are two of the most common causes of cold sores. When the immune system is compromised, viruses are less likely to be repelled.

Living a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating nutrient-dense foods and exercising regularly, can help you avoid outbreaks of cold sores.

Try stress-relieving techniques like yoga, meditation, or journaling if you’re under a great deal of pressure.

When Are Fever Blisters Contagious?

Even if blisters have not yet formed, a cold sore is contagious as soon as symptoms emerge. They can also be transmitted even in the absence of symptoms. To prevent transmission of the herpes simplex virus:

  • Until the lesion has healed, avoid intimate contact, including kissing and other skin-to-skin contact.
  • Do not share items of personal hygiene, such as utensils, towels, and toothbrushes.
  • Lipstick, lip gloss, and foundation should not be shared.
  • Replace your toothbrush after the cold sore has healed to prevent reinfection.
  • Do not pick at a cold sore and always wash your hands after applying ointment or touching the sore.
  • If exposure to sunlight causes cold sores, apply sunscreen daily to the affected area.

When To Seek Medical Attention For a Cold Sore?

In a matter of weeks, cold sores typically disappear without treatment. However, consult a physician if you experience frequent outbreaks or if they last longer than a few weeks.

The same holds true if your fever blister is severe or accompanied by additional symptoms, such as eye pain. In some instances, the herpes virus can cause eye infections that require treatment.

cold sore

Questions Frequently Asked About Cold Sores

How can a cold sore be prevented from forming?

You cannot always prevent cold sores, but understanding their triggers may reduce their frequency. Common causes of cold sores include:

  • Stress
  • Absence of sleep
  • Sun exposure skin injury
  • Hormonal alterations
  • A compromised immune system

Keeping a food or activity journal can assist in identifying specific triggers.

Should a cold sore be kept moist or dry?

Diverse opinions exist regarding whether a cold sore should be kept moist or dry. Some medical professionals advise avoiding creams and gels once a lesion has appeared as cold sores thrive in moist environments. They recommend allowing a cold sore to dry before applying moisture to prevent cracking or splitting.

Existing medication to prevent the occurrence of cold sores?

If you experience frequent outbreaks, consult your physician about a daily antiviral. Most cold sores heal within 10 days and do not require treatment. However, oral antivirals prescribed by a doctor can shorten the duration and severity of a cold sore and prevent future outbreaks.

Are fever blisters and genital herpes the same?

No, cold sores and genital herpes are not the same, despite being caused by similar viruses.

HSV-2 causes genital herpes and is transmitted through sexual contact. HSV-1 causes cold sores and is transmitted through physical contact. Oral sex is however capable of transmitting cold sores to the genital region.

Is ice helpful for cold sores?

Applying ice to an area that is tingling or burning for 5 to 10 minutes prior to the onset of a cold sore will reduce blood flow, thereby reducing pain and swelling once the sore erupts.

How do you prevent a cold sore from developing?

Unfortunately, a cold sore cannot be prevented. However, by beginning treatment early, you may be able to reduce the duration and severity of the illness.


A cold sore must run its course once it has appeared. Most cold sores heal on their own within a few weeks.

If a cold sore is treated as soon as symptoms appear, its severity and duration may be diminished. The sooner treatment is initiated, the greater the likelihood of containing the outbreak. Frequently, home remedies are sufficient to treat a cold sore.

If you have eczema, a compromised immune system, or are undergoing cancer or organ transplant treatment, your risk of developing complications from the herpes simplex virus may be increased. Consult a physician at the first sign of a cold sore to determine the most effective treatment.

  • What are your go-to remedies or treatments for cold sores?

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