How to Treat a Cold Sore

Cold sores are a common skin condition caused by a virus called the human herpesvirus (HHV). According to the American Academy of Dermatology more than half of Americans ages 14 to 49 carry the virus that causes cold sores. These sores are small blisters that typically form on the lip or around the mouth and are highly contagious.

According to Dr. Abigail Donnelly, board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology in Carmel, Indiana,
Cold sores are sometimes confused for canker sores. Canker sores are different because they do not stem from a virus and occur inside of the mouth virus on the skin of the lips or around the mouth.
The cold sore virus sits dormant until it is triggered. These triggers may include:

• Stress
• Fatigue
• A cold, fever or the flu
• Exposure to the sun
• Hormonal changes
• Exterior trauma such as shaving, accidental cuts, dental work or facial treatments

“Most cold sores will heal on their own overtime,” added Dr. Donnelly, “but there are steps you can take to manage your symptom and abbreviate the duration of the episode”

• Apply antiviral cream at the first sign of burning, itching or tingling around the mouth. This will help slow the reproduction of the virus and relieve the symptoms
• Take an ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help reduce pain and inflammation
• Avoid acidic foods like tomatoes and oranges – when coming in contact with the cold sores, these acidic foods can further irritate the skin and increase pain
• Place a cool, damp towel on the cold sores for 5 to 10 minutes, a few times a day to reduce redness and irritation

While most cold sores heal on their own within a few weeks, prescription medication can be prescribed that will shorten that window. If you frequently get cold sores, speak with your local board-certified dermatologist to find the right treatment plan for you.

Skin Struggles?
At Forefront Dermatology, we know that life is all about the moments when you don’t need us. That’s why we’re here for all the moments when you do. We offer comprehensive and compassionate care for all skin conditions and create customized treatment plans for all ages – even the tiniest of patients! Find a location near you today.