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Cold Sores Treatments & Creams

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  • What are Cold Sores?

    Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and present as small blisters that are found on the lips and around the mouth.
    Left untreated, it will typically take between 7-10 days for a cold sore to clear up.
  • What are the symptoms of Cold Sores?

    Cold sore outbreaks will usually begin with a mild tingling, itching or burning sensation felt around the mouth.

    This initial sensation will then develop into small fluid-filled sores that usually form on the outer edges of the lower lip.

    A sufferer who experiences recurrent frequent infections, often finds the cold sore developing in the same place each time. Initially, the sores can grow in size and start to ooze, before becoming crusty and scabbing over. This usually occurs within 48 hours of the initial tingle sensation.

    The majority of cold sores will heal untreated within ten days, usually without scarring.

  • How do I prevent an infection from Cold Sores?

    • Avoid becoming dehydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
    • Avoid foods that are salty or acidic, favoring soft, cool foods instead.
    • Use an antiseptic mouthwash if you find brushing your teeth painful.
    • It is recommended to apply cold sore creams with a gentle dabbing action, opposed to rubbing the cream in.
    • It is important to wash hands using soap and water prior to and after the application of cold sore creams.
    • It is advised to avoid touching the cold sores, apart from when applying the cream. Also, it is important not to share cold sore creams with others, due to cross-contamination of the infection.
  • What medication is avaliable to prevent and treat Cold Sores?

    Cold Sores are viral infections and can be treated using antiviral creams, such as Aciclovir or Penciclovir (Also known as Fenistil). If used correctly, these treatments can speed up the recovery time by up to 50%.

    Cold Sore creams are readily available from pharmacies without a prescription. They are most effective when applied at the onset of an infection when the herpes virus is still reproducing and spreading. This is sometimes referred to as the tingling stage. After this initial period, antiviral creams are less likely to have a significant effect.

    Cold sore creams are applied up to five times daily, for a period of four to five days. They do not eradicate the existing herpes simplex virus, nor can they prevent future outbreaks from occurring.

    When treating cold sores, Antiviral tablets are generally considered more effective than their cream counterparts. However, they are only available on prescription and tend to be reserved for more severe cases.

    Cold Sores can also be treated using a medicated patch, containing a gel called hydrocolloid. This form of treatment involves placing a patch over the cold sore, allowing it to heal whilst hiding the wound.

    There are a range of non-antiviral creams that are available from pharmacies without a prescription. Though these creams are not specifically designed to treat the herpes simplex virus, they will instead help to ease the associated pain and irritation.

    Painkillers such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen (available in liquid form for young children) are also effective means for easing the associated pain of cold sores. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a tailored treatment suitable for you.

  • Do I need to see a Doctor for Cold Sores?

    For the majority of cases, cold sore sufferers do not need to visit their doctor.

    The condition is self-limiting and is generally treated with antiviral treatments that can be purchased over-the-counter.

  • Are Cold Sores contagious?

    Yes, Cold Sores are contagious. The risk of spreading the infection to others can be minimized by following the advice below:
    • Try to avoid touching the cold sores except when applying the appropriate cold sore treatment. If using a cream, ensure to dab it gently onto the sore to avoid damaging the skin further.
    • Always wash hands prior to and after application of any cold sore cream, and any time after touching the infected area.
    • Do not share cold sore medication with others. This can cause the infection to spread.
    • Avoid sharing anything that has been in contact with the infected area. Items such as cutlery, drinking glasses or lip balms.
    • Abstain from kissing and oral sex until the cold sores have completely healed.
    • It is advised to be extra careful around vulnerable people whose immune systems may be weak or compromised. For example, newborn babies, pregnant women, the elderly.
  • What triggers can cause a Cold Sore?

    In many cases, there is no obvious trigger for a cold sore outbreak. However, factors that are thought to trigger a cold sore include:
    • Suffering from an existing infection.
    • Suffering from a fever or high temperature.
    • Having an existing injury to the affected area.
    • Menstruation (periods).
    • Exposure to strong sunlight.
    • Being tired or fatigued.
    • Emotional or psychological stress.
    • In some instances, cold sores can be caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2). This can occur after having oral sex with a man or woman who suffers from genital herpes, which is a condition typically caused by HSV-2. Genital Herpes presents as painful blisters that develop on and around the genitals.
    • If a sufferer is aware of the triggers that, for them, brings on a bout of cold sores, it is recommended they attempt to avoid these triggers. For example, a lip balm containing a sunblock may help prevent the recurrence of infection in someone for whom sunlight is a trigger. A sun-protection-factor of 15 or higher is advised.
  • What is the most common age group to suffer from Cold Sores?

    Cold sores can affect all ages. The vast majority of sufferers will experience their first infection during their childhood.
  • Is there a cure for Cold Sores?

    Unfortunately, there is no known cure for cold sores. For most sufferers, the condition is endured as a short-lived nuisance that can be effectively managed through the use of non-prescription anti-viral treatments. These treatments are widely available in pharmacies and supermarkets. If a sufferer is experiencing severe of frequent episodes of cold sores, it is recommended they seek advice from their doctor.
  • Can Genital Herpes be caught from a Cold Sore?

    Yes, it is possible to contract genital herpes from a cold sore.

    If a person infected with a cold sore performs oral sex, he or she can transmit the infection to their partner. This can result in cold sores appearing on and around the genitals, which is called genital herpes.

    The reverse of this is also possible. A facial cold sore can be caught from someone who has genital herpes through the act of oral sex.

Authored By:

A photo of  Andy Boysan

Andy Boysan


Published on: 29-05-2019

Last modified on: 29-05-2019

Andy is a co-founder, the superintendent pharmacist and director at The Independent Pharmacy.

Reviewed By:

A photo of Dr Donald Grant

Dr Donald Grant

MB ChB DRCOG MRCGP Dip.orth.med

Reviewed on: 29-05-2019

Next review date: 29-05-2021

Dr Don Grant is a GP with over 30 years experience and is the Clinical Advisor at The Independent Pharmacy

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