Cold sore treatment

What is a cold sore?

A cold sore consists of a group of small, painful blisters that appear around the mouth and lips, and in some cases, the nose, cheeks and inside the mouth. Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). They’re also known as herpes simplex labialis or fever blisters. 

The symptoms of a cold sore are usually most severe the first time you get one. Once you experience the first outbreak, your body will create antibodies. Some people will never have another infection, but others do. 

Are cold sores Herpes?

A cold sore is a form of herpes. The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores, whereas the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) causes genital herpes. Even though HSV-1 commonly causes cold sores around the mouth and lips and HSV-2 causes sores around the genitals, both viruses can cause sores in both areas.

How common are cold sores?

Cold sores are extremely common. However, it’s important to note that cold sores aren’t usually a serious medical condition and there are many things you can do to treat your symptoms.

Cold sore symptoms

In most cases, cold sores will appear around the mouth and lips. Once you are infected with a cold sore, it can take up to 20 days for them to develop. The sore usually emerges close to where the virus entered your body. As well as the sore, some people may experience red or swollen gums, swollen neck glands, muscle aches or a fever.

What does a cold sore look like?

When cold sore blisters first appear, they normally look like small, fluid-filled bumps that are surrounded by red and swollen skin. Once the blisters burst, the cold sore will heal and appear as a dry scab.

Stages of a cold sore

Cold sores will normally appear in stages. This means you won’t suddenly develop an open sore on your face and can use preventative medication to reduce your symptoms before they start showing. The stages are as follows: 

  1. A tingling, itching or burning feeling. 
  2. Around 6-48 hours later the area will become red, swollen and painful as blisters form.
  3. The blisters will break open and fluid may ooze out which will last 2-3 days. 
  4. A scab will form over the sore and it may crack or bleed. 
  5. The scab will fall off and the blister will heal fully within 10-14 days in most cases
How long does a cold sore last?

Cold sores will usually take around 10 days to clear up on their own, but this varies between people. What triggers your cold sores and their severity can affect the time it takes to fully recover. Fortunately, there are things you can do to promote faster healing and ease the pain.

Cold sore triggers

Cold sores tend to come back when your immune system is weakened. Looking after your health will help you avoid recurrent bouts. Everyone is different and you will need to observe your symptoms to identify the herpes triggers which affect you. 

Common trigger for cold sores include:

  • an infection (for example a cold or the flu)
  • emotional and physical stress
  • having a high fever
  • being tired or exhausted
  • injury to the lips or mouth
  • hormonal changes (including menstruation in women)
  • exposure to sunlight

Cold sore treatment

There is no cure for HSV, but there are things you can do to treat your cold sore when you experience an outbreak. Though treatment of an uncomplicated cold sore is not essential, acting fast with the right medication can reduce the length and severity of your symptoms.

Is there a cure for cold sores?

There is no cure for the virus that causes cold sores. In most cases, cold sores will heal by themselves and will clear up in around 7-10 days. However, if you use antiviral creams and cold sore tablets correctly, it could help speed up the healing process while reducing your symptoms. 

How to treat a cold sore

Cold sore tablets and creams can be used to treat a cold sore as soon as you start to feel a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your lips, mouth or face. Cold sore patches are a good option for cold sores that have already caused blistering on the skin as they offer protection to the infectious area and promote healing. 

Cold sore tablets

Cold sore tablets can be taken to treat illnesses that are caused by HSV, including cold sores and genital herpes. Your doctor may prescribe you cold sore tablets if you’ve suffered from infections before or if you have a weak immune system. 

Cold sore creams

Cold sore creams can not cure the infection or stop it from spreading to other people. They can stop an outbreak by being applied to the symptomatic area during the early stages, but they can’t be used on an open sore. We do not provide cold sore creams, but you may be able to purchase these from your local pharmacy.

Where can I get cold sore tablets?

You can conveniently buy cold sore medication from our pharmacy locations following a short consultation with our pharmacist. Topical treatments for cold sores are available over the counter. Your GP may be also able to prescribe cold sore tablets on the NHS but this will depend on your medical history and local prescribing guidelines.

Can I buy Cold Sore Tablets?

You can buy cold sore tablets from your local Dears Pharmacy. In order to be supplied this medication you will have to complete a short and simple medical form, so our pharmacists can review it and treat you safely. If they think it’s right for you, they’ll prescribe the medication for you. 

Can I get Cold Sore Tablets over the counter?

No. Cold sore tablets are only available on prescription. Topical treatments, such as cold sore creams, are available over the counter. 

Can I get Cold Sore Tablets on the NHS?

You may be able to get cold sore tablets on the NHS. Whether you are prescribed these depends on your medical history, the severity of your condition and local prescribing guidelines . The severity of your cold sore will determine the best treatment for you. It’s best to consult with a doctor if you’re suffering from your first cold sore and require treatment. 

Where can I get cold sore tablets?

Cold sore tablets and other medications are usually effective but they may not work for everyone. If you’re unsure about whether this treatment is right for you, then you should contact your doctor or pharmacist to ensure you’re making the right decision for your health. If you’re taking other medication, then a medical professional can tell you if it’s safe to take both medicines together. 

List of contraindications

If you’re under 18, pregnant or breastfeeding, elderly, suffer with kidney problems or have a suppressed immune system it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start this treatment. You shouldn’t take cold sore tablets if you’re allergic to active ingredients in the medicine or similar medications. 

Medications that interact with cold sore tablets

You must tell your doctor if you’re taking any of the following medications before taking cold sore tablets like aciclovir: 

  • Aminophylline or theophylline for asthma. 
  • Cimetidine for stomach ulcers.
  • Mycophenolate mofetil after an organ transplant. 
  • Probenecid for gout. 
  • Certain medications used in the treatment or prevention of HIV

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