The Top 5 OTC Cold Sore Treatments Compared
When you face the mirror, what’s the first thing you want to see? Your bright eyes? Your lovely expression? A dazzling smile?
Unfortunately, a big, nasty cold sore can distract from these wonderful attributes.
Before you call in sick and hide out at home, consider the over-the-counter (OTC) cold sore treatment options that can make your painful lesion a bit more bearable.
About Cold Sores
Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, come from a common but bothersome viral infection that materializes on the lips or around the mouth. Though these lesions aren’t dangerous, they’re often painful and are highly contagious.
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is what causes cold sores. Type 1, or HSV-1, most often leads to oral herpes, or cold sores, and type 2, or HSV-2, most often leads to genital herpes. However, HSV-2 can also spread to the lips to cause cold sores through oral contact.
The life of a cold sore can be measured in five distinct stages:
- Tingling: You feel a tingly or burning sensation before the blisters appear.
- Blistering: Fluid-filled blisters appear on your lips or around your mouth.
- Weeping: The blisters break open, and the fluid inside leaks out.
- Crusting: The broken blisters scab over to protect the lesion while it heals.
- Healing: The scab falls off, and the blisters are fully healed.
Your cold sore is contagious at every stage, but it’s especially contagious during the blistering and weeping stages. Use caution when coming into any kind of contact with another person, especially a romantic partner. Limit sexual activity, even kissing, until the cold sore is fully healed.
Though there is a strong social stigma associated with the herpes virus, there’s no need to feel any shame about a cold sore or any other herpes outbreak. If you find feelings of shame related to herpes are affecting your life, reach out to a mental health professional for help.
As of this publication, there is no cure for the herpes simplex virus. However, your local pharmacy or trusted online retailer probably carries an effective cold sore remedy you can trust.
Many OTC cold sore treatment options are formulated to treat stubborn outbreaks. Let’s take a look at the top six options currently available.
What Is Abreva® and How Is It Used?
Abreva® is an over-the-counter cream used to treat cold sores (fever blisters). Apply Abreva® directly to your cold sore at the first sign of emergence for best results. This OTC cold sore treatment can be used up to five times per day, or as directed by your doctor.
How Does Abreva® Work?
When used at the first sign of that cold sore “tingle,” Abreva® can reduce healing time to as few as 2.5 days. Abreva® delivers best results when applied in evenly spaced intervals to keep the skin consistently covered.
The active ingredient in Abreva is 10% docosanol. This ingredient helps reduce the healing time of your cold sore by preventing the herpes virus from attaching to your cells and replicating. If the virus can’t replicate, it can’t spread, and the healing process can begin.
Docosanol is the only non-prescription ingredient approved by the FDA to act as an OTC cold sore treatment.
What Are the Pros, Cons, and Price of Abreva®?
Abreva® is easy to find and use, and it contains the only non-prescription ingredient approved by the FDA to limit cold sore outbreaks. However, Abreva® can’t prevent the spread of herpes or stop future outbreaks from occurring.
You can find a 0.07 oz. package of Abreva® at the drugstore for around $20.
What Is Orajel™ and How Is It Used?
Orajel™ is a popular over-the-counter medication for instant and targeted pain relief in and around the mouth. The Orajel™ Cold Sore formula includes active ingredients clinically demonstrated to treat the pain, itching, and dryness associated with cold sores.
How Does Orajel™ Work?
Orajel™ uses a combination of skin protectants and topical anesthetics to temporarily relieve symptoms of cold sores (fever blisters). You can apply the product directly to the cold sore and blend it in well until a green tint disappears. It’s safe to apply Orajel™ three times per day to maintain comfort.
Unlike Abreva, Orajel™ has multiple active ingredients, including:
- 0.13% benzalkonium chloride: This anti-inflammatory helps relieve pain associated with the cold sores.
- 5% benzocaine: A local anesthetic that deadens the nerve endings in your skin to further relieve pain.
Together, these active ingredients provide a great deal of relief for the pain and discomfort of the cold sore.
What Are the Pros, Cons, and Price of Orajel™?
Because Orajel™ uses benzocaine to diminish the pain of cold sores, it increases comfort but doesn’t accelerate the healing process or prevent future cold sore outbreaks.
Orajel™ must also be used with caution since too much benzocaine absorbed through the skin and into the blood can cause serious side effects.
This treatment is available over-the-counter for about $14.
What Is ViruLite® and How Is It Used?
ViruLite® is a cold sore treatment device that uses light technology to expedite the healing time of cold sores. It was first sold in the United Kingdom and Europe and is now available in the United States. This FDA-cleared treatment can be used without a prescription to target cold sores at home.
How Does ViruLite® Work?
ViruLite® uses invisible infrared light therapy to trigger a local immune response around active cold sores. It works best when used three times a day for two days.
To use ViruLite®, place the device over your cold sore and hold it in position for a three-minute treatment session.
What Are the Pros, Cons, and Price of ViruLite®?
When used properly, ViruLite® is shown to speed up the healing time of cold sores. It’s convenient and reusable. For persistent cold sore outbreaks, it’s safe to use ViruLite® more frequently. This device costs $129 and is available online.
What Is Lysine and How Is It Used?
Unlike other OTC cold sore treatments that use pharmaceutical ingredients, lysine is an essential amino acid found naturally in the body. It helps the body produce antibodies that fight infections, including the herpes virus.
Lysine supplements, also known as L-lysine, are popular natural treatments for cold sores.
How Does Lysine Work?
Lysine is available as both an oral supplement and a cream. A lysine cream like Quantum Lip Clear Lysine+ Cold Sore Treatment can be applied every two hours for up to 11 days to the affected area. It works to relieve itching, burning, blistering, and pain associated with cold sores.
When used as an oral supplement to manage cold sores, lysine can be taken in one-gram doses three times per day. Some people take a single one-gram dose per day to prevent future outbreaks altogether.
Similarly to Abreva®, this OTC cold sore treatment option works by blocking the activity that promotes viral replication, which prevents the outbreak from getting more severe and helps it heal faster.
What Are the Pros, Cons, and Price of Lysine?
Lysine is a natural treatment with a limited amount of clinical research demonstrating its efficacy. Many people prefer lysine as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs and ingredients, especially due to the lack of side effects, but more research is needed to officially confirm its benefits.
Lysine supplements are available in tablet form for about $10 a bottle or in cream form for about $9.
The Luminance RED
What Is the Luminance RED and How Is It Used?
This FDA-registered handheld device uses red light phototherapy to fight cold sores. Studies show that red light nourishes skin cells, which metabolize the light to accelerate the body’s healing process and strengthen its defenses against future attacks. Regular use not only shortens the healing time of active outbreaks, but also significantly extends the time between outbreaks.
How Does the Luminance RED Work?
The Luminance RED is designed to be held about one centimeter from the infected area for a 60-second session. It should be applied at least once a day, up to three times per day, for maximum efficacy.
What Are the Pros, Cons, and Price of the Luminance RED?
According to clinical research, patients who received treatment with red light average 37.5 weeks before their next cold sore episode, compared to three weeks for those who did not receive treatment. Patients have also experience a 49% reduction in healing time and a 77% reduction in pain.
Overall, the Luminance RED offers an advanced way to reduce the severity of cold sore outbreaks, accelerate healing, and reduce the frequency of future outbreaks. It’s available online for $349. Luminance RED also offers a 6-month, 100% money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with the device.
Prescription Option: Acyclovir
What Is Acyclovir and How Is It Used?
Acyclovir is available by prescription only in the U.S. It comes in tablet, capsule, or liquid form to decrease the pain and healing time of sores and blisters caused by a variety of herpes viruses, such as chickenpox, shingles, genital herpes, and cold sores.
How Does Acyclovir Work?
Acyclovir should be taken two to five times a day for five to ten days, depending on the extent of the outbreak. It’s most often used for up to 12 months to prevent genital herpes outbreaks, but your doctor may recommend a shorter dosage to address cold sore outbreaks.
A type of antiviral medication, acyclovir belongs to a class of synthetic drugs called nucleoside analogs. This medication incorporates itself into the viral DNA and stops the key component that ensures the herpes virus can continue to replicate. Once the virus is unable to replicate, it can no longer spread, which helps outbreaks heal.
What Are the Pros, Cons, and Price of Acyclovir?
Acyclovir can reduce the effects of herpes outbreaks and suppress future outbreaks, but it also boasts a long list of potential side effects. These include upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, joint pain, and hair loss. If you experience any symptoms after taking acyclovir, be sure to call your doctor.
Final Thoughts: OTC Cold Sore Treatment Options
As you can see, there are many OTC cold sore treatment options to choose from. Because each type of treatment boasts specific benefits, a combination of two or more might be the best option for you.
If you’re nervous about starting a new treatment regimen, start with non-invasive options, such as the Luminance RED. Light therapy has virtually no side effects and is clinically demonstrated to heal cold sores and prevent new ones from forming. It’s a win-win, no-risk option!