If you’re one of the 50 to 80 percent of Americans infected with oral herpes, you might be familiar with the warning signs of a cold sore: A tingling sensation, followed by some redness or swelling. Blisters make their appearance not long after that, and then the action really begins.
Cold sores are uncomfortable and unsightly, and according to Medscape, they’ve been annoying humanity for our entire history. The virus has no cure, but unlike our ancestors, we now have ways to treat symptoms or prevent outbreaks entirely.
First, know your triggers. According to Healthline, common triggers include stress, too much sun exposure, fatigue, hormone fluctuations and compromised immunity. Other illnesses such as colds can contribute to cold sore outbreaks as well, weakening your resistance to the virus while your immune system is busy fighting off another infection.
Cold sores almost always heal on their own within seven to 10 days, but according to the Mayo Clinic, you can relieve discomfort with cold compresses, over-the-counter remedies to dry out the cold sore, a little bit of rest, and pain relievers such as Tylenol. You can also apply a hydrocolloidal bandage to the affected area to prevent crusting and help the sore blend into the surrounding area.
Prescription topical and oral antiviral medications can dramatically shorten healing time, lessen the severity of outbreaks, or prevent them altogether. You can contact your doctor or use a telehealth provider such as Nurx, Rory or GoodRx to discuss whether a prescription medication is appropriate. But check your health insurance benefits first — not all telehealth providers accept insurance, and you may save money by visiting your regular physician.