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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Cold Sores - Home Treatment

Most cold sores heal on their own. But you can manage your symptoms at home by:

  • Placing a cool, wet towel on the sores 3 times a day for 20 minutes each time to help reduce redness and swelling.
  • Taking ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) to reduce pain. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of its link to Reye syndrome, a serious but rare problem.
  • Using a mouth rinse that has baking soda to soothe a sore mouth.
  • Avoiding foods that contain acid (such as citrus fruits and tomatoes).
  • Using nonprescription ointments that can relieve pain or help heal the cold sore.
    • Some products such as Abreva and Zilactin can speed the healing of cold sores or prevent them if applied early enough.
    • Other products such as Orajel and Anbesol can numb sore areas in the mouth or on the lips.
    • Children age 2 and older can be treated with Zilactin-L Liquid, Orajel Baby, and Anbesol. Abreva is for people age 12 and older, so talk to your doctor before using it for a younger child. And if your child is younger than 2, talk to your doctor before using any of these medicines.

You can reduce the frequency of cold sore outbreaks by taking the following steps:

  • Avoid prolonged exposure of your lips to sunlight. Use sunscreen at all times on your lips (in a lip balm form) and protect your face from the sun.
  • Avoid intimate contact (such as kissing) with people who have cold sores or genital herpes.
  • Avoid foods that seem to cause your cold sores to recur. Some people find that they have fewer outbreaks if they don't eat nuts, chocolate, or gelatin.
  • Avoid sharing towels, razors, silverware, toothbrushes, or other objects that a person with a cold sore may have used.

These measures may help prevent the spread of cold sores in children:

  • Encourage frequent hand-washing.
  • Do not let children share toys that other children put in their mouths.
  • Clean toys occasionally with a disinfectant.
  • If children have open or weeping cold sore blisters, keep them home until the blisters begin to scab over.
  • Do not let children kiss each other while they have cold sores or uncontrollable drooling.
  • Use disposable gloves or a cotton swab to apply medicated ointment to a child's cold sores.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 04, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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