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How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Fast

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

What started as a tender, tingling sensation at the edge of your mouth is now a full-blown cold sore, and you want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are painful, fluid-filled blisters that occur on lips, under the nose, or around the chin. According to the American Dental Association, the initial infection can also cause painful lesions inside the mouth on the tongue, cheeks, and gum tissue.

These cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1), but don't be alarmed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50 percent of the United States population ages 20 and older have HSV-1, many of which never manifest symptoms.

A cold sore usually goes away on its own within two weeks, but if you have a major event on your calendar — like a wedding or an important job interview — you're probably wondering how to get rid of your cold sore fast. Learn about your cold sore treatment options and how you can prevent future outbreaks.

Prescription Medications

For the best results, see your doctor or dentist at the first hint of a cold sore. He or she can prescribe an antiviral medication to help your cold sore heal more quickly. Though the antiviral medication won't eliminate the virus from your system, it can reduce the duration of a cold sore outbreak.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your doctor may prescribe one of two formats:

  • A topical cream that you apply directly to sores, such as docosanol cream or acyclovir cream.
  • An oral medication that you take by mouth, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir.

These medications are most effective when they're taken before the blisters appear. When you feel a cold sore coming — tingling, burning, swelling, and redness in the area are all clues — the medications can help heal the cold sores or even stop them from appearing at all.

Over-the-Counter Cold Sore Remedies

Though most antiviral medications are only available with a prescription, there are some over-the-counter (OTC) options that can help reduce a cold sore's pain and discomfort. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, these ointments, creams, patches, or gels can speed up the healing process by about one day, and sometimes they can prevent blisters or scabs from forming, too. Look for a topical cream that contains acyclovir, penciclovir, or docosanol. Just like the prescription medications, these OTC options work best when used at the first signs of a cold sore outbreak.

If you're looking to ease a cold sore's pain and discomfort, numbing creams that work as a local anesthetic to help numb pain and provide cold sore relief are also available. These creams contain active ingredients like benzocaine, lidocaine, and tetracaine.

At-Home Cold Sore Remedies

If your medicine cabinet isn't stocked with an antiviral medication, use these overnight cold sore remedies until you can see a doctor or visit a pharmacy.

  • Apply a cold compress. Try holding a cool, damp cloth against your cold sore. This can make your sore less red and crusty and help it heal more quickly than if you let it alone. If you can feel the cold sore coming, but it hasn't appeared yet, hold a piece of ice to the area. This method may keep a full-blown cold sore from developing or may make it go away more quickly.
  • Keep the area moisturized. Use a lip balm or moisturizer to keep your lip and mouth area hydrated and prevent the sore from drying out and peeling. It's also important to keep this area protected from the sun, so look for a lip balm with 30 or higher SPF.
  • Don't touch the cold sore. Although it's tempting to pick at the sore or scrape the peeling skin, keep your hands off and let it heal itself. Plus, the sore is contagious, so if you touch your lips, make sure to wash your hands afterward to prevent spreading the virus to other people or other areas of your body.

Help Prevent Future Cold Sores

Though the virus that causes cold sores does not have a cure, there are measures you can take to prevent outbreaks. These preventive measures include:

  • Understanding your cold sore triggers. Figuring out what sets off your cold sore outbreak can help you keep them away in the long term. Some common cold sore triggers include anxiety, sunburn, exhaustion, hormonal changes, the common cold, or minor scratches or injuries to the lip. You may need to avoid excess sun exposure, find ways to reduce anxiety levels, or take other actions to prevent future outbreaks.
  • Replacing contaminated items. After you go through the healing process and get rid of your cold, make sure to replace your toothbrush, lip balm, and any other items that made contact with your cold sore and are not easily washed and disinfected. The virus that caused your cold sore can live on these items for days and cause your lips to become reinfected.
  • Talking to your doctor or dentist. If you suffer from cold sores often, your doctor or dentist may recommend taking an antiviral medication regularly to help prevent outbreaks. They can also help you identify possible triggers and recommend lifestyle changes to decrease your chances of getting cold sores.

Cold sores can be annoying, painful, and inconvenient. When you have an important event on your calendar, use these tips to get rid of a cold sore fast, prevent future outbreaks, and restore your lovely smile.


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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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