Have you ever noticed that the universe decides to throw an itchy, burning cold sore your way during the most inconvenient of times? Turns out this isn’t a coincidence or a sign of bad luck. Herpes simplex, to which 90% of American adults have been exposed, is reactivated when you’re under physical and emotional stress. Since such a common and contagious virus shouldn’t stop you from living your best life, we chatted with two dermatologists to figure out how to prevent, treat, and stop cold sores in their tracks.
Below, they explain the quickest ways to get rid of a cold sore.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Carl Thornfeldt is an Oregon-based award-winning researcher and clinical dermatologist and the founder of skincare brand Epionce.
- Dr. Rachel Nazarian is a dermatologist with Schwieger Dermatology Group and the author of several dermatology textbooks, such as Treatment of Skin Disease. Dr. Nazarian serves as a faculty member at Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology.
Focus on Prevention
The bad news about cold sores? Once you’ve got one, you’re in for about one to two weeks of recovery (though medication can cut that time down). That means prevention is crucial. “Cold sores can be activated by stress, fatigue, from lack of sleep, after an illness like a cold or flu, and from exposure to sunlight,” explains Carl Thornfeldt, MD.
To combat the oncoming of a cold sore, make sure you’re getting an ample amount of sleep every night (five to nine hours, recommends Thornfeldt) and moderate exercise for three to five days per week to keep your immune system and mental health in check.
Adjust your diet.
At the onset of a cold sore (and especially during the healing process), it’s important to watch what you’re eating. “Avoid irritating foods like citrus or spicy foods that may aggravate the area and slow down healing,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD. Incorporating multivitamins and probiotics into your diet is also a good idea. “Take a multivitamin with minerals plus a probiotic containing five to 10 billion colonies for immune and nutritional support,” suggests Thornfeldt.
Try a Dermatologist-Approved, Over-the-Counter Treatment
Once a blister is in full swing, over-the-counter, topical medications can help alleviate symptoms. Nazarian suggests Abreva, which helps relieve itching and burning while shortening healing time. Thornfeldt cites L-Lysine supplements as an effective way to prevent the progression of a breakout. “Take 1000 milligrams twice daily to help reduce symptoms and accelerate healing,” she says.
Talk to Your Doctor About a Prescription
Unfortunately, some of the fastest and most effective cold-sore treatments aren’t available over the counter, which means seeing a doctor is a must for a speedy recovery. “The best treatment is a prescription antiviral pill that can shorten the course of a cold sore—or even prevent one from forming if taken early enough,” says Nazarian. “There are also prescription topical antivirals that may help treat blisters if applied early.”
Lastly, consider getting a cortisone injection at your doctor’s appointment. “These may shrink the blister down quickly and help speed up healing once you’ve started the oral medication,” explains Nazarian.