Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"What should I take for frequent cold sore outbreaks?"

ZocdocAnswersWhat should I take for frequent cold sore outbreaks?


I get cold sores quite frequently, at least once a month, and I am looking for a better treatment option. Walgreen's used to sell small liquid filled tubes with Benzalkonium Chloride (0.13%) in them that you rubbed on the cold sore until it was opened. Within hours the pain would be gone and it would heal quite quickly. For an unknown reason, they discontinued this product and I am back to using Abreva. Could buying just Benzalkonium Chloride (0.13%), as a simple antiseptic, and then applying it have the same effect? Are there any prescribed medications that you can take orally to limit outbreaks?


As you most likely know, a cold sore is an infection around the mouth that is caused by a particular virus, the herpes simplex type 1 virus. This virus, once it infects the body, is never totally eradicated. Rather, periodically (and often in times of stress on the body), the virus will reactivate and cause a new cold sore, which is what you have experienced. Many people with cold sores are able to get by with the kinds of topical treatments that you have used, which help to decrease the discomfort from the cold sore and may also speed healing. However, since you are having such frequent and recurrent cold sores, you should make an appointment to discuss the issue with your primary care doctor. Since the cold sore is caused by a viral infection, it turns out that sometimes taking antiviral medications, which are available only by prescription from your doctor, can help either speed healing or prevent such frequent recurrences of the cold sore. Your doctor will be able to discuss this option with you and help you decide whether this is an appropriate strategy for you to use. Book an appointment with your doctor today!

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.