Using Rubbing Alcohol on Cold Sore Outbreaks


If you grapple with recurring cold sores, the prickly, itchy sensation that marks the beginning of an outbreak can be distressing. Cold sores aren't just a nuisance. They can be painful and impact your confidence. While cold sores typically heal on their own within two to four weeks, you might want to find a solution that accelerates the process. You might have considered applying rubbing alcohol on cold sore outbreaks as a quick home remedy, but does it really work?

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1. The red, painful sores can appear on the inside or outside of your lip or anywhere around your mouth. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 50 to 80 percent of adults in the U.S. carry the virus. Some carriers may never have an outbreak, while others may have recurring cold sores. Factors like stress, hormone changes and infection can trigger cold sore outbreaks, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Rubbing Alcohol on Cold Sore Outbreaks

If it's not too severe, a cold sore will generally go away without treatment within a matter of weeks. Antiviral creams or pills recommended by your doctor may help the healing process. Before trying any home remedies, like using rubbing alcohol on your cold sore, discuss your options with your doctor.

Rubbing alcohol is a common household item that's primarily made up of either isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. There are no universal instructions for administering rubbing alcohol on cold sore outbreaks, but people might treat the area with a dab of rubbing alcohol on a clean cotton ball. This method may speed up healing because alcohol is a drying agent found in some over-the-counter cold sore preparations, reports the Mayo Clinic, but no definitive studies have proven the effectiveness of this remedy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), isopropyl and ethyl alcohols can inactivate the herpes virus, which may lead some to the conclusion that they can clear up cold sores. However, no scientific data affirms a direct link between rubbing alcohol and healing a cold sore.

Risks to Consider

The CDC reports that isopropyl alcohol is highly flammable, so always make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle for handling and storing it. If swallowed, rubbing alcohol can cause abdominal pain and vomiting. If your cold sore outbreak is inside your mouth, do not apply rubbing alcohol on it in case you accidentally ingest the alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol can also cause a mild skin reaction called contact dermatitis, states the Mayo Clinic. This condition can cause a slight burning sensation and inflamed, red skin. To avoid these risks, it's best to steer clear of rubbing alcohol on your cold sores.

Alternative Home Remedies

Sticking to safe, proven cold sore treatments allows you to speed up the healing process risk-free. Applying a cold compress to the sore may help shorten your outbreak and decrease inflammation, redness and crusting. If you suffer from regular cold sore outbreaks, you may want to try an over-the-counter antiviral ointment, advises NHS Scotland. Note that while these treatments may provide relief, they do not get rid of the herpes simplex virus or prevent future outbreaks.

Rubbing alcohol on a cold sore might not be a proven path to healing, but cold sores are common and can be treated with other methods. If you have frequent or severe outbreaks, your doctor can prescribe medications to curb the duration and intensity of your outbreaks to help you smile confidently again.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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