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Cold sore treatments

Self care

If you have a cold sore there are a number of things you can do to help manage the condition. Here's some self-help information:

  • your pharmacist may recommend products to treat the short term symptoms of a cold sore
  • antiviral creams or ointments such as aciclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir should be used in the first few days of a cold sore outbreak when a tingling sensation or a raised lesion or blister is first noticed . These are available without prescription from pharmacies and other shops and supermarkets
  • povidone-iodine ointments (commonly known as Betadine) may reduce symptoms in some
  • creams and ointments should be gently dabbed on to the cold sore rather than rubbed on
  • if you are in pain, paracetamol may be helpful or get advice from your doctor on medicines you can take
  • antibiotics may be needed if the cold sore gets infected
  • ice can be soothing
  • lip balms, including petroleum jelly, may help if your cold sore is painful or dry. They may also help to prevent the cold sore from cracking once it has crusted over
  • if brushing your teeth is too painful, try using an antiseptic mouthwash instead
  • if the cold sores are around your mouth, try to eat soft foods, but avoid anything salty or acidic which may irritate your cold sore
  • cold sores should be covered by a dressing especially for children who may not practice good hygiene – such as hand washing
  • avoid close contact with babies and infants.

Preventing cold sores from spreading

There are steps you can take to prevent spreading cold sores to others if you have them:

  • avoid any direct physical contact with other people, particularly kissing or intimate sexual activities such as oral sex
  • always wash your hands if you touch the affected area
  • try not to share things like cups, cutlery, towels, toothbrushes, razors, flannels and even cold sore creams with anyone else
  • try not to pick at a cold sore as this can lead to further infection and/or scarring.

Preventing cold sore from erupting again

There are steps you can take to prevent spreading cold sores from erupting again:

  • try to avoid your triggers. Triggers are different for different people but can include things like a cold (flu), sunlight, very windy conditions, emotional or physical stress or hormonal changes
  • take care of your general health, avoid getting run down and overly stressed.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your cold sores, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: November 2016

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