You may have multiple patches of cold sores during an outbreak. There’s no cure for any type of herpes simplex virus, which is the cause of cold sores. After an outbreak heals, it may recur any time.

The best time to begin treating a cold sore is as soon as you feel tingling or itching around your mouth. These symptoms may happen a few days before blisters appear.

Lysine is an amino acid that may help prevent the herpes simplex virus from being more active. According to an older study from 1987, lysine tablets may reduce the number of herpes simplex virus outbreaks and their severity. Lysine may also help reduce healing time. You can find a variety of lysine tablets here. Research on lysine for cold sores isn’t conclusive, so talk to your doctor before using it to treat a cold sore.

Propolis is a resin material that bees collect from botanicals and use to seal crevices in their beehives. Propolis is high in antioxidants and thought to have antiviral properties. Research has shown propolis may prevent the herpes simplex virus from replicating. According to a 2002 study, an ointment tested on rats and rabbits made of 5 percent propolis improved symptoms of active HSV-1 infection by helping to prevent symptoms in rats and rabbits. It is available in a 3-percent concentration for human use. Several options are available on

According to a 2001 study, a topical cream made of rhubarb and sage may be as effective for treating cold sores as the antiviral medication acyclovir (Zovirax) in topical cream form. The study found rhubarb and sage cream helped to heal a cold sore in 6.7 days. Healing time with acyclovir cream was 6.5 days, and healing time using sage cream alone was 7.6 days.

Topical zinc oxide cream (Desitin, Dr. Smith’s, Triple Paste) may shorten the duration of cold sores. In a 2001 study, cold sores treated with zinc oxide went away, on average, one-and-a-half days sooner than those treated with placebo. Zinc oxide also reduced blistering, soreness, itching, and tingling.

Research has shown that licorice root has antiviral and antibacterial abilities. Its antiviral properties help prevent viruses from replicating, while its antibacterial properties inhibit bacterial function. This same study showed that licorice exhibited antifungal activity. Topical licorice root cream is available to treat cold sores.

Learn more: Health benefits of licorice root »

Lemon balm extract also has antiviral abilities, according to older research. Studies have shown that lemon balm helps protect against herpes simplex virus. They also found that treating a cold sore with lemon balm in its early stages was most effective. Lemon balm has been shown to reduce healing time and some of the symptoms of cold sores. Find a great selection of lemon balm here.

Applying a cool cloth to a cold sore is soothing. It removes crusty areas and helps reduce redness and inflammation.

Your doctor may recommend a prescription antiviral to treat a cold sore. Most antivirals come in a tablet or topical cream form, and some are available in an injectable form. They may be used to reduce the length of an acute outbreak or as a preventative to prevent new outbreaks.

To reduce your risk of a major outbreak, it’s important to start antiviral therapy medication as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on, even if blisters haven’t formed yet.

Some prescription antivirals are:

  • acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • famciclovir (Famvir)
  • valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • penciclovir (Denavir)

Since prescription antivirals are potent and may cause rare but adverse side effects such as kidney injury, allergic reaction, and hepatitis, they’re often reserved for severe cold sore outbreaks or people with weak immune systems.

Stress and illness are two main triggers of cold sores. When your immune system is compromised, it’s less likely to fight off viruses. You can help avoid cold sore outbreaks by living a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating right and exercising regularly. If you’re experiencing a lot of stress, try stress-relief techniques such as yoga, meditation, or journaling.

A cold sore is contagious as soon as symptoms begin, even if blisters haven’t appeared. They can also be spread to others even when there are no symptoms. To avoid spreading the cold sore virus:

  • Avoid intimate contact including kissing and other skin-to-skin contact until the lesion is healed.
  • Don’t share personal care items such as utensils, towels, or toothbrushes.
  • Don’t share cosmetics such as lipstick, lip gloss, or foundation.
  • Replace your toothbrush when you get a cold sore to prevent reinfection, and replace it again after the sore has healed.
  • Don’t pick at a cold sore, and wash your hands each time you apply ointment or touch the sore.
  • If sunlight triggers cold sores, apply sunscreen daily to the area where cold sores develop.

Once a cold sore begins, it must run its course. Most go away within a few weeks without treatment. Treating a cold sore as soon as symptoms start may reduce its severity and duration. The earlier you begin treatment, the better chance you have of containing the outbreak.

Home remedies are often all it takes to manage a cold sore. If you have eczema or a weakened immune system, or are undergoing treatment for cancer or organ transplant, you’re at risk of complications from Herpes simplex virus. Talk to your doctor at the first sign of a cold sore to determine the best treatment for you.