What is Abreva&Reg;?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 February 2020
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Abreva® is an over-the-counter topical cream designed to treat cold sores on the lips and face. The active ingredient in Abreva® is docosanol; it has been proven in clinical trials to be effective at lessening the severity of symptoms and shortening the healing time of active cold sores. The drug is available at most pharmacies and supermarkets, and comes in 0.7 ounce (2 gram) tubes and pump applicators. An individual who experiences sporadic or frequent cold sores should speak with his or her doctor to determine if Abreva® is an appropriate treatment option.

Cold sores are open lesions that appear on the lips or the corners of the mouth of a person who is infected with herpes simplex virus type one. Sores typically develop over the course of one or two days, first causing a slight tingling sensation and eventually erupting as small red and white blisters. Without treatment, sores tend to persist for one to two weeks. Using antiviral drugs such as Abreva® can help reduce the severity of pain and tingling sensations and promote faster drying and healing of open blisters. Clinical trial results suggest that applying Abreva® consistently throughout the course of an outbreak can shorten healing time by one to two days.


Abreva® is intended to be applied several times a day for as long as symptoms persist. Doctors recommend that a person begin applying the cream at the first signs of an outbreak, when the skin starts to turn red and tingly. A person with an active outbreak should not share the medication with others, since the highly contagious herpes virus can potentially be spread on the applicator tip.

An individual should speak with his or her doctor or pharmacist before using an antiviral medication for cold sores to make sure it is the best treatment choice. The drug is not intended for use by children under the age of 12, and it has not been thoroughly investigated for use when pregnant or taking other medications. It is important to remember that antiviral drugs cannot cure herpes, and it is likely that a person who experiences a cold sore will have future outbreaks.

Most people who use Abreva® do not experience any negative side effects. Some trial participants and patients have reported that their skin becomes excessively dry or red after using the product, and a small number of people experience headaches with frequent use. It is also possible to suffer an allergic reaction to the drug, which can lead to a skin rash and throat swelling. A person who experiences any serious adverse effects when using Abreva® should stop using the medication immediately and contact his or her doctor right away to prevent further complications and learn about alternative treatments.


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