Despite their name, cold sores aren't actually caused by the virus that causes the common cold. Rather, they are caused by the herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1). Don't be alarmed; HSV-1 is very common, and as much as 50 percent of the population in the U.S. has it by their 20s, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Although plenty of people have the virus, many never actually develop a cold sore or blister. If you have HSV-1, there is no actual cure, but a cold sore remedy can treat its resulting outbreaks, make them less severe or keep them from occurring altogether.
Although an antiviral medication won't eliminate the virus from your system, it can help reduce the duration of a cold sore outbreak. Famciclovir is one example of an antiviral medication that can do this. As with other types of antivirals, famciclovir is most effective if you take it when you first begin to feel the symptoms of a cold sore – itchiness or a tingling feeling in your lip, for instance. According to Medline Plus, you typically only need to take a single dose of this medicine when using it as a cold sore remedy. It's generally in tablet form, and works by keeping HSV-1 from spreading through your body. This allows a cold sore to heal more quickly and keeps new sores from forming.
Famciclovir is just one type of prescription antiviral that can help cold sores. Other options include penciclovir, a topical cream applied to the lips to help relieve the symptoms caused by an outbreak. Another oral medicine for manifestations of the herpes virus is acyclovir, which, like famciclovir, works best when taken at the first sign of an outbreak.
Over-the-Counter Cold Sore Relief
Antiviral medications are usually only available with a prescription, but there are also over-the-counter options that can help reduce the pain and discomfort of a cold sore. These are usually topical creams that contain either an antiviral or local anesthetic to numb the irritated area. An antiviral option is docosanol, which should be applied directly to the sores to reduce any pain and help them clear faster.
A product that numbs the area, such as Colgate® Orabase®, can also be applied to ease the discomfort you experience from a cold sore. The active ingredient in this item is benzocaine, a type of local anesthetic. Of course a more readily available way to desensitize the area is with a cold compress or ice pack; apply this to your lips as soon as you notice a cold sore.
Keep Cold Sores Away
When it comes to cold sores, an ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure. If you have regular outbreaks, your dentist might prescribe an antiviral medicine for you to take regularly, to help keep the virus under control. In some cases, figuring out what triggers a cold sore outbreak can help you keep them away in the long term.
Some people, for example, develop cold sores after spending time in the sun, so using sunscreen on the lips can help control outbreaks, as can avoiding excess sun exposure. Still others experience outbreaks when under stress, so finding ways to manage or reduce anxiety levels can also be of help. Because it is possible to spread the virus to other people, and to other parts of your body, you'll want to avoid sharing drink glasses and utensils. Keep from touching the blister and then touching another part of the body, as well.
Although there may be no cure for the common cold sore, there are plenty of ways to cope with it. Finding the treatment that works best for you might take a bit of trial and error, but in time, you'll find one that reduces outbreaks or clears them up quickly.