As there is no cure for cold sores (strictly, herpes simplex virus, type 1), treatment serves mainly to moderate the symptoms, which can include mouth blisters, fevers, mouth pain and a sore throat.
Creams or ointments which you can buy over-the-counter can be applied to the cold sore and help to soothe the blisters and encourage healing. Antiviral medicine (such as Acyclovir or Famciclovir) may lessen the pain or reduce the time the cold sore takes to heal over. These antivirals are prescription-only.
For people who get frequent and debilitating attacks of cold sores, oral antiviral medicine may be prescribed to be taken every day, to reduce the number of cold sore episodes (they won’t stop them entirely). Your physician or pharmacist will be able to advise you about this kind of cold sores treatment.
There are also many natural or complementary medicines which are on offer now as cold sores treatment. Because cold sores usually heal on their own after a few days anyway, it is difficult to assess these in the normal way. With this in mind, traditionally many people have used the herb lemon balm (applied as an ointment, or as a liquid made from boiling up the leaves) to ease the symptoms of cold sores, while more recently vitamin C tablets or creams have been used to speed up healing.
Cold sores treatment can also involve other methods. It helps many people if they avoid eating acidic foods while they have cold sores. This includes things like oranges and tomatoes. Very salty or spicy foods should also be avoided.
Protecting the lips from the sun (by wearing a hat, or simply staying out of the sun) can help; using lip balm at all times to cover the areas of your mouth which are prone to cold sores may help to prevent them happening. You should also protect your lips and mouth from cold winds. Cold sores got their name because it was formerly believed they came with cold weather.
Placing something cool on the cold sore itself, such as a damp towel or a cloth-wrapped ice pack may reduce the pain and swelling.
Natural antiseptics like tea tree oil may help to heal the blisters.
Many people take lysine, as a dietary supplement, to help with prevention or as a cold sore treatment to help with recovery. Lysine is an amino acid found in cereals and pulses.
As cold sore outbreaks usually occur when your immune system is overtaxed, for example when you are under a lot of stress, it will help if you can avoid or limit stressful episodes in your life. This of course may not be subject to your control. Many people find that after the active and mobile years of their teens and twenties are over, and they settle down to have a family, cold sore attacks become much less frequent.