Cold Sore Home Remedies: 9 Self-Care Tips to Get Relief Fast
Home remedies for cold sores can help ease symptoms, such as pain and discomfort. They can also help heal cold sores faster, particularly if you start them as soon as symptoms first appear.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is contagious. Healing cold sores through home care can also help prevent transmitting HSV-1 to others.
This article will offer tips for treating cold sores at home. It will also discuss when to contact a doctor for cold sores.
Learn more about cold sores, including symptoms and causes.
To reduce pain, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends cooling the cold sore. Hold an ice pack or a damp cloth directly to the cold sore a few times per day. The cooling effect can decrease swelling and ease pain, itching, and burning.
Many cold sore treatments are available over the counter (OTC). Typically, you should start these medications within 24 hours of a cold sore developing. Early treatment can help shorten the duration of the cold sore by about 1 day.
Look for products that contain antiviral ingredients, including:
- benzyl alcohol
Other ingredients in OTC cold sore medications that can help relieve pain, burning, and itching include:
A 2016 study observes that aloe vera gel interferes with the growth of HSV-1 viral cells. This suggests that it might reduce the severity and duration of a cold sore infection. Apply aloe vera gel to your sore twice daily.
The AAD recommends applying petroleum jelly regularly to reduce discomfort. Petroleum jelly can prevent dryness and cracking to the cold sore and surrounding skin.
A 2008 study suggests that Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) essential oil can have an antiviral effect on HSV-1. Applying a small amount of the oil directly to cold sores may help shorten its duration. Applying it at the start of your cold sore symptoms may increase its effectiveness.
Research from 2005 finds that oral zinc supplements may reduce the frequency and duration of cold sores. The study recommends 22.5 milligrams (mg) of zinc sulfate, taken twice daily. Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking zinc or other supplements.
Another study from 2001 suggests that zinc oxide/glycine cream every 2 hours may lessen cold sore symptoms and duration.
OTC pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), can help alleviate pain or burning.
Avoid taking aspirin. Taking it during viral infection can lead to a condition called Reye’s syndrome. This complication is more common in children and teenagers. However, people of any age can develop it.
Learn more about Reye’s syndrome symptoms, causes, and risk factors.
Witch hazel is a natural astringent. It can help reduce swelling and relieve irritation from various conditions, including cold sores.
Older research from 1996 observes that witch hazel’s antiviral properties may specifically target HSV-1. Apply a 2% witch hazel cream to your cold sores several times per day. This cream is typically available OTC.
Learn more about the health benefits of witch hazel.
The AAD notes that certain foods can make your cold sore symptoms worse. Acidic, spicy, or salty foods can be especially aggravating to cold sores. These foods can include:
- hot sauce
- salted chips or nuts
Stick to more bland, neutral foods and beverages until your sore goes away.
Most cold sore infections are not serious and go away on their own. However, some cases may require treatment beyond the home remedies listed above.
Your doctor may prescribe antiviral tablets that can help shorten your recovery time. These can be more convenient than OTC medications because you only need to take them 1–2 times per day.
In rare cases, cold sores do not go away and can spread to other parts of the body.
Contact a doctor if you have:
- a cold sore close to one or both of your eyes
- a sore lasting more than 2 weeks
- frequent outbreaks of cold sores
- atopic dermatitis
- compromised immune system due to an underlying condition or treatment, such as chemotherapy
- sore that is leaking pus instead of clear fluid
These are some other questions people often ask about cold sore home remedies. Danielle Hildreth, RN, CPT, has reviewed the answers.
What naturally kills cold sores?
Since cold sores are caused by a virus, you cannot kill them. You need to wait for the virus to complete its cycle. However, home remedies may help shorten the course of the virus and make the sore disappear sooner. These remedies include applying cold packs, OTC medications, and natural balms.
How can you get rid of a cold sore overnight?
It is not possible to get rid of a cold sore overnight. However, home care can help ease your discomfort and reduce the duration of the cold sore. Avoid acidic foods, use OTC antivirals, and apply petroleum jelly to help shorten your recovery time.
What’s the fastest home remedy for cold sores?
There isn’t a best or fastest treatment for cold sores. Contact your doctor about additional treatments for cold sores if home remedies did not effectively improve your symptoms.
Home remedies for cold sores focus on relieving symptoms and shortening healing time. Most cold sores will go away on their own after a few weeks.
Cold sore home treatments include using cold packs, OTC medications, petroleum jelly, and other natural balms. It may also help to avoid spicy or acidic foods.
If your symptoms worsen or do not improve, contact your doctor about additional medical treatments for cold sores.