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Abreva for cold sores

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Abreva cold sore cream contains docosanol which is an antiviral agent. Treatment must start in the early stages of a cold sore before the blisters appear. As soon as you get any symptoms, carefully apply a thin film over the entire cold sore 5 times a day. Continue using until the cold sore is healed, usually for 4-6 days.

The cause of cold sores is a herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection. The infection may break out when the immune system is weakened during stress or a menstrual period. The virus causes blisters or sores, mainly on the lips.

Doctor’s advice

Who is it for?

Abreva cold sore cream is used to treat the early stages of recurrent labial herpes simplex infection (cold sores) in adults and adolescents over 12 years old.

How does it work?

Docosanol works by preventing the virus from entering the cells, which in turn prevents more of the virus from being produced. Unlike other cold-sore antivirals, docosanol does not act directly on the virus, so it is unlikely to produce drug-resistant mutations of HSV.

How do I use it?

Start treatment as soon as you notice the first symptoms or signs of a cold sore; for instance, itching, stinging, burning, or prickling in the affected area. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after treatment to avoid spreading the infection.

Apply a thin film carefully using a fingertip or a cotton bud over the entire cold sore 5 times daily (approximately every 3 hours during waking hours). Avoid touching the tube's end after touching the cold sore.

Continue treatment until healing is complete, usually between 4-6 days. If you notice no difference after 10 days, you should stop the treatment and contact your doctor. Do not lend the tube to anyone, as you risk spreading the infection to others.

Should anybody avoid taking it?

Do not use this product if you are immunocompromised or if you have had an organ transplant. If you are immunocompromised and develop a cold sore, please consult your doctor immediately. Do not apply the cream if the cold sore has already formed a blister or has an ulcer-like appearance.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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