Seen At 11: Treating Those Pesky Cold Sores

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Cold sores are something most of us have to deal with at some point. They can be painful and embarrassing, and pop up where you just can’t hide them.

“It’s an ugly thing on your face,” Upper West Side resident Pam Pardee said.

“It would be convenient if you could cover it up, but it’s right in the middle of your face,” said Philip Ginitis of Queens.

“It just brings your whole body down, said Midtown resident Alexis Briscuso.

There are, however, treatments that work.

“It makes me feel very insecure,” Beracah Sullivan said.

Sullivan’s cold sore is in the end stages of healing. She says the sores are upsetting both physically and emotionally.

“They’re huge blisters, and they’re on the middle of my face,” Sullivan said. “I can tell people really are trying to not look straight at my mouth when I have them.”

For many of his patients, Dr. David Colbert says cold sores are devastating.

“It can make you not want to go to work. It can make you depressed. It can make you feel like it’s ruining your social life,” said Dr. Colbert, a dermatologist.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, type 1. The virus is contracted by touching the saliva of an infected person, usually through sharing food or kissing.

It’s incredibly common, and worst of all, once you get it, there’s no getting rid of it.

By the time they’re adults, up to 80 percent of Americans carry the virus that causes cold sores. Many of those people will never actually get a cold sore, but that doesn’t mean they’re not contagious.

“Some people are shedding virus, but there’s no sore there, so you wouldn’t even know,” Dr. Colbert said.

Cold sores are commonly brought on by stress, fatigue, sickness and sun exposure, and some people can sense them before they strike.

“I’ll get an inkling that they’re coming by a little bit of tingling or itching on my lip,” Sullivan said.

The process of healing can be a long one – taking up to two weeks – but there are some treatments that can help.

Prescription creams reduce pain and itching, and oral antiviral medications, like Valtrex, can shorten the healing time if taken right when the sores develop.

Alternative therapies – like vitamin C, lysine supplements and lemon balm – can ease the pain and improve the appearance of the sores.

One study showed that zinc oxide cream may reduce the duration of the outbreak.

Dr. Colbert offers cortisone injections to patients who want to look better faster.

“Very diluted cortisone into the cold sore, this can bring the inflammation down quite rapidly,” he said.

A handheld heat device, called the Zeno CS, may inactivate the virus and make sores heal in half the time. Already on the market in Canada, the makers hope for FDA approval in the U.S. soon.

For Sullivan, the most effective approach is to take a deep breath and relax.

“I try and be conscious of calming myself down,” Sullivan said.

Some popular treatments, like tea tree oil and camphor-based creams, have not been proven to be of any benefit in treating cold sores.

  • Sigrid

    You can try eating a green bell pepper! That tip was in a women’s magazine years ago and it really works for me. If you can eat the bell pepper as soon as you notice the first tingle, most of the time it stops the fever blister INSTANTLY!!

    Before I found that remedy, the best thing that worked was I burst the first little blister and then taped a small slice of an aloe vera leaf over it for a few hours. I didn’t have a cold sore for about 3 years after that.

  • Sue

    My pharmacist brother-in-law told me to take Lysine when I first feel the ‘tingle’ of the cold sore, and it has worked for the past 25 years. If one does break out, I use Abreva and keep taking the lysine.I also take lysine once a day with my other vitamins just to keep it in my system.

  • Alex T

    Use abreva at first sign otherwise use a combination of skin shield (liquid bandage) which prevents it from spreading and caladryl clear (calmine lotion) which dries it. I then use herpicin L on my lips to prevent them from drying up. Hope this helps someone! i’ve been dealing with this since i was 14 yo and it’s the best method next to prescription antivirals (not valtrex)

  • Jerald Mendoza

    Early detection slightly shortens the healing time, I put Abreva and avoid puncturing the blisters, just let it dry on it’s own. I heard about the nail polish remover and they say it works but I haven’t tried it and it seems like it’s working on them.

  • Victoria

    Releev is a great product. The first time I felt tingling I put the product on, and I never got an actual cold sore outbreak. At worst I get a red patch. I guess if you stop the first outbreak from developing the actual sore will not happen. I hope this will help someone, I know this can be VERY upsetting.

  • mary

    Abreeva always works for me….as long as you apply at the first sign of a cold sore…

  • Dr. Peter Maro

    I left a comment a few minutes ago…if you need to contact me about this please do…Dr. Peter Maro

    • Tanya

      Hello Dr. Maro,

      I’m just heart broken my 11 yr old son gets them I get them too not as bad as he does. He’s school age and I feel so bad for him because children can be cruel. Can you PLEASE tell me what I can do.

      • Dr. Peter Maro

        Tanya…there is no cure…but when you feel the itch starting…You can use a laser to heat the virus and this eliminates the pain and you get an ulcer that heals in 1 to 2 days. It is a painless procedure…but does require an office visit to someone that has a diiode laser. You can go to my website at if you wish to contact me…Best, Dr. Peter Maro

  • Angela

    I have a remedy that has worked for me that i discovered on a message board. It shortens the healing time of the cold sore. It’s actually a combination of treatments. It’ll sound crazy but it works! First I dab on…wait for it…nail polish remover (it’ll sting like crazy) but I hold it on the sore for a coulple of seconds this helps to begin to dry out the sore. . Then I dab on Abreeva. I do this a few times a day. And it usually heals in a week if not less if I treat it sooner.

  • DanTe

    Marijuana works wonders. Cold sores’ gone in a day or two.

  • Tiffany davis

    I have taken Lysine 1000mg once a day & i seen to cut my outbreaks down to once every 3 or so months,

  • Peter Buiter

    I use Azovir, which is not so effective and mycolog, a salve that combats inflammations. But you do have to put it on when you feel pain in your lip or itching and part of our lip becoming hard. If you put it on at once mostly the next day the problem is gone.

  • David Silver

    Boroleum has worked for me for 50 years.

  • DLA

    Releev is the best treatment. Can be purchased at most drug stores.

    • JoeM

      I agree with one addition. Put Hydrogen Peroxide on a Qtip and dab the infected area prior to putting the Releev on. This combination seems to work even better than jut the Releev alone.

  • Allyana

    For anyone suffering with cold sores the best and most efficient medication I have ever used is CARMEX For-Cold_sores. It cost only $2.49 and you can find on any drugstore over the counter. Is like a lip balm and works like a miracle

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