Here's What Doctors Say Helps Heal Cold Sores Quickly

Admittedly, cold sores aren't the sexiest topic of conversation. But with up to two-thirds of the adult population under the age of 50 experiencing them, it's time to talk about it. In addition to being common, cold sores are also a nuisance because they're often painful, tender, and take a while to go away.

According to Dr. Lucy Chen, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist of Riverchase Dermatology, a cold sore is a small blister (or cluster) around the lips and mouth, sometimes referred to as a fever blister. "Cold sores are caused by a highly contagious herpes simplex virus that many are exposed to in childhood," she says. "They spread through saliva or close contact like kissing, sharing straws, utensils, or even towels with someone who has a cold sore."

Some people with cold sores never show any symptoms, while others deal with common blistering around the mouth. If you're in the latter group, here's what dermatologists say can help get rid of and prevent cold sores.

How Do I Get Rid of Cold Sores?

While there's no cure for cold sores, there are things that you can do to help ease the pain, lessen the severity, and shorten its life span. Without any treatment, cold sores begin to heal within seven to 10 days, says Dr. Chen. "However, the virus that causes cold sores may stay in someone's body for the rest of their lives without causing any symptoms," she tells InStyle. 

"If you tend to get cold sores frequently, it's wise to keep antiviral topical or oral medications on hand to keep the virus from replicating," says Dr. Chen.

You can either get a prescription from your dermatologists or buy an over-the-counter option, like Abreva ($23, cvs.com), which can help shorten the healing time and ease your symptoms, says Dr. Jeriel Weitz, a board-certified dermatologist of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.

But to shorten the life span of a cold sore, Dr. Weitz says you need to start treating it before the blisters even show up. "In many cases, patients report burning, tingling, or pain before the onset of skin lesions — this is when treatment should start," she says.

Along with prescription and over-the-counter antiviral topicals, Dr. Chen says at-home remedies like applying a cold compress, holding a damp wash cloth against it, applying petroleum jelly, and taking ibuprofen can help minimize the pain and duration of a cold sore while also soothing inflammation. "Rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide can help dry out the sore and speed up the healing process as well," she says.

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How Can I Prevent Cold Sores in the First Place?

As previously mentioned, the best way to prevent cold sores is to avoid sharing lip balm, straws, and drinks with someone who has a cold sore. However, "if you've already been infected with the virus, try to avoid potential triggers," says Dr. Weitz. Some potential triggers for cold sores are excessive sun exposure, stress, hormonal changes, and dry lips caused by cooler temperatures.

"Patients who find that outbreaks are triggered by sunlight should avoid the sun during peak hours in addition to wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen," she says. "Furthermore, try to get enough sleep, as lack of sleep weakens your immune system and can make you more prone to illness."

Dr. Chen adds, "Be aware of triggers that might be specific to you, such as eating spicy foods, cosmetic lip injections, or chemical peels that go close to the lip area. When you have a cold sore, avoid touching your face and wash your hands to prevent spreading the virus."

Generally, cold sores heal up on their own with these tips and tricks. However, if you find your cold sore isn't going away within a couple of weeks, is reoccurring frequently, or the symptoms, like pain, are severe, it's best to make an appointment with a dermatologist.

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