Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Cold sore treatments

3-minute read

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.
  • Avoid close contact with babies and infants.
  • Try not to lick, poke or pick at the area.
  • Keep the cold sore dry and clean.
  • Avoid acidic food such as grapefruit or lemons.

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).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2018


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Cold sores overview - myDr.com.au

A cold sore is a skin infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Cold sores usually occur on or around the lips or nose and are very common. They have nothing to do with colds.

Read more on myDr website

Cold sores: self-care - myDr.com.au

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex type 1 virus. Most people carry this virus in their bodies. Find out what products are available for cold sores.

Read more on myDr website

Cold sores - Better Health Channel

Cold sores are blisters around the mouth and nose, caused by the herpes simplex virus.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Genital herpes: 10 common myths - myDr.com.au

Find out the truth about some common myths surrounding genital herpes involving cervical cancer, condoms, cold sores and oral sex.

Read more on myDr website

Chilblains: symptoms, causes & treatment

Chilblains are small, painful red/purple bumps on the skin that develop after exposure to cold, damp conditions. Usually found on the fingers, toes, ears, nose or heels, they are one of the mildest but most common forms of cold injury.

Read more on myDr website

Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) – nose, throat & lungs

Learn what you can do about respiratory tract infections (RTIs) - from colds, flu and sore throat to pneumonia.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Mouth sores

This fact sheet explains some common mouth sores, their symptoms and treatment.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Blisters: children & teens | Raising Children Network

Blisters look like bubbles on the skin. This practical guide explains how to recognise blisters and apply blister treatment for children and teens.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Common eye infections | Australian Prescriber

Antibiotic drops are not the treatment for all red eyes. An incorrect diagnosis can increase the risk of loss of vision.

Read more on Australian Prescriber website

Laser therapy - myDr.com.au

Laser therapy is used as a treatment for a wide range of skin and cosmetic conditions, including signs of ageing, sun damage, tattoo removal and hair removal. 

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo