What is Abreva?

Abreva is a well-known, widely used cold sore treatment. Cold sores are painful. blister-like infections caused by the herpes simplex virus. Sores are contagious until they’ve completely disappeared, which takes from 7 to 10 days. Applying Abreva to the sore can speed up the healing process and also reduce the pain and discomfort caused by the infection.

abreva - docosanol for cold sores treatment

Abreva is a brand name for docosanol, an anti-viral agent. Docosanol is FDA approved for the treatment of cold sores, and the medication can be purchased at any drugstore without a prescription.

How Abreva works

Put simple, Abreva works by preventing the virus from fusing with healthy skin cells. The treatment doesn’t prevent a break out completely because people don’t apply the gel until they sense that a sore is growing–by then, the virus has already begun attaching to skin cells. But when the gel is applied early in the life cycle of the sore, it prevents the virus from replicating and spreading. Instead of lasting for 10 days, using Abreva can reduce the life of a cold sore to 2.5 days. The longer it takes to apply the gel, the less effective the medication will be.

This doesn’t mean the virus isn’t contagious though; it can still spread through skin contact. The virus can also spread by sharing Abreva.

What are the other drugs that interact with Abreva?

There are no known interactions at this time. In theory any medication should be safe to take with Abreva, but there’s always a chance of interaction or side effects. Anyone who uses Abreva in conjunction with other medications should let their doctor know.

Who should not use Abreva?

Before using this medication, the following should be considered.


Inform your doctor if you have ever had any kind of allergic reaction to this medicine or to other allergens such as to foods, dyes, preservatives, or animals. Read the label ingredients carefully.


Abreva is approved by the FDA for the treatment of cold sores but has not been approved for use by anyone under the age of 12. Similarly, the effects of Abreva on seniors are unknown. In either of these cases, discuss the treatment with a doctor before deciding which course of action to take.


The effects of this treatment on pregnant women and fetuses aren’t known. It’s recommended that pregnant and nursing women avoid the use of Abreva unless completely necessary.

Applying Abreva

Application is straightforward. Use Abreva at the first sign of a cold sore outbreak, like tingling, itching, redness, or a bump.

Wash your hands and face before applying the gel, which you would ideally do with a Q-tip or some other kind of applicator. Apply a generous amount of the gel 5 times throughout the course of the day. Repeat these steps every day until the cold sore is gone. If the sore lasts longer than 10 days, speak to your doctor. Avoid perfumed cleansers or cosmetics, as these may irritate the sore.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Missing a dose may slow the healing process. Continue applying the gel at regular intervals 5 times a day. Using extra gel to compensate for the missed dose won’t make a difference to the healing process.

What are the side effects of Abreva?

Serious side effects are not expected with Abreva, but allergic reactions may occur. Symptoms of allergic reaction include, but aren’t limited to, difficulty breathing, rash, itching, and hives, as well as swelling of the lips, tongue, or face. If an allergic reaction occurs, seek emergency medical care immediately.