How long do cold sores last?

Cold sores typically last 7-10 days, but can persist for up to 14 days. The duration of the outbreak can be shortened with antiviral medication.

Taking antiviral medications may speed up healing time and reduce recurrence rates. A doctor can prescribe either oral and topical antiviral medications.

Oral antiviral medications tend to be more effective than topical treatments. Examples of antiviral medications that a doctor may prescribe for cold sores include:

  • acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • famciclovir (Famvir)
  • valacyclovir (Valtrex)

Apart from antiviral medications which focus on healing the cold sores, other treatments can help ease the discomfort they cause. These treatments include:

  • applying a cold compress to the area for pain relief
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
  • using aloe vera
  • using lysine
  • applying analgesic creams
  • applying OTC cold sore creams with drying agents

While cold sores are very uncomfortable, painful and mostly embarrassing, you should note that:

  • Most cold sores do not need medical treatment — they will heal themselves with time. 
  • Prescription antiviral medications can lessen the severity of cold sore symptoms and speed healing time. 
  • While everyone’s experience with cold sores can be unique, cold sores can last anywhere from one to two weeks.