Since the virus that causes cold sores lasts a lifetime, one of the keys to treating cold sores is actually to try preventing them. As mentioned on the previous page, there are a number of things that can trigger a cold sore outbreak including illness, stress and sun exposure. So, to stave off a sore, you need to avoid these triggers. During cold and flu season, get plenty of rest, maintain proper nutrition, take a multi-vitamin and consider getting a flu shot. To alleviate stress, make time for exercise and consider taking up a mindful practice like yoga or meditation. When you're going to be outside, make sure to wear sunscreen on your face and lips. Many skin care products, lip balms and lipsticks now contain sunscreen, so be sure to select and use those products.
If you haven't managed to prevent a cold sore from gracing your face, there are a number of over-the-counter options to help treat it. To alleviate pain and discomfort, look for topicals that contain anesthetics such as lidocaine, tetracaine, dibucaine, benzyl alcohol or benzocaine [sources: Mayo Clinic and MedicineNet]. An untreated cold sore will typically go away on its own in about a week or 10 days. If you're hoping to find a treatment that can shorten the stay of your cold sore, you could try using the over-the-counter topical Abreva (docosanol) [source: Drugs.com]. Directions suggest that you use this product at the very first sign -- maybe that stinging sensation -- of an impending outbreak and then reapply several times a day, every day until the lesions are gone.
Other options for speeding up healing time include prescription topicals and oral medications. Your physician can prescribe creams that contain either acyclovir or penciclovir, or oral antivirals such as acyclovir, valacyclover or famciclovir [source: MedicineNet]. These antivirals are particularly helpful for people who find themselves getting cold sores on a regular basis. Although these medications do not offer a cure, they can help control the number of outbreaks -- and their durations -- you suffer.
For more information about cold sore medications, read Cold Sore Medications: Fast Facts.
If you'd prefer trying home or natural remedies, head on over to the next page.