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Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
When you don’t feel well, you want a quick fix.
You might be familiar with treatments for allergies or the common cold. But what about cold sores?
These fluid-filled blisters commonly found on or around the mouth are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Once you are infected with the virus, different factors can trigger an outbreak of cold sores. It’s understandable to want to get rid of an outbreak right away.
“If [someone is] getting cold sores a lot, that will decrease their quality of life. These are visible and they’re unattractive but they also hurt,” says Dr. Chris Adigun, a board-certified dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “If there’s a way that we can suppress activation, then we do that.” We spoke to Adigun to discuss how to treat cold sores.
How to get rid of cold sores
You can treat cold sores with over-the-counter medication, an oral antiviral medication prescribed by your doctor, or intravenous antiviral medicine, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
One of the main treatments for cold sores is the prescription medication valacyclovir, says Adigun. Valacyclovir is an oral medication that treats different herpes virus infections, including cold sores, shingles and genital herpes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How do I use valacyclovir?
Valacyclovir works by suppressing viral replication, says Adigun. This makes it harder for the herpes simplex virus to manifest into a cold sore.
There are several ways to use the medication. Some users will take it when they know that they will be exposed to one of their triggers. The herpes simplex virus remains dormant in the body until it’s reactivated by a trigger. Examples of common triggers include stress, UV exposure and a fever. The reactivation of the virus causes an outbreak of cold sores. If someone takes valacyclovir when they are exposed to a trigger, the medication will suppress viral replication and not allow the virus to progress, says Adigun.
Some people will take valacyclovir when they start to experience bodily signs that indicate a cold sore is coming. These bodily signs are known as prodromal symptoms. Examples of prodromal symptoms are “itching, burning or tingling on the lip in the absence of anything burning it, tingling it or itching it,” says Adigun. Taking the medication during the prodromal symptoms “stops the viral replication in its tracks,” she adds.
Some people choose to take the medication daily. This is an option for people who experience cold sores very persistently, she says.
How long does a cold sore usually take to clear up?
If you leave your cold sore untreated it will usually last about two weeks, says Adigun. However, if you take valacyclovir once a cold sore outbreak has already occurred, you can shorten the duration of the outbreak by a few days, she explains.
Cold sores are painful and can seriously deter a person’s confidence. A commonly Googled question asks if a cold sore is a deal breaker in a new relationship. Adigun makes clear that cold sores are incredibly common and nothing to be ashamed of. And for those who are hesitant to put themselves out there because of their cold sores, she provides words of comfort: “Let’s get your cold sore treated, and you get right back out there.”
What causes a cold sore? The reason is not as taboo as some might think.