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What Is Docosanol Used For?

Docosanol is used for the treatment of cold sores. Unlike most antiviral medications, it does not kill the cold sore virus. Instead, it changes the membrane of healthy, uninfected cells. This prevents the virus from attacking these cells and limits the spread of infection. Docosanol is used for adults and children ages 12 and over. Off-label uses include treating a tumor common in people with HIV or AIDS.

What Is Docosanol Used For? -- An Overview

Docosanol (Abreva®) is an over-the-counter (non-prescription) medication used to treat cold sores.
 
Cold sores (known medically as herpes labialis) are caused by a virus, usually herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1). Cold sores, also called fever blisters, usually occur on the lips or mouth (unlike canker sores, which occur inside the mouth). Cold sores can be quite contagious and can spread to other people easily. Most people have been infected with the cold sore virus, even if they have never had a cold sore.
 
The cold sore virus never really goes away, but remains inactive in certain nerve cells in the body. The virus can become active, often triggered by stress or illness, and can cause cold sores again and again.
 
Docosanol is approved to treat recurrent cold sores in adults and adolescents age 12 and older.
 

How Does Docosanol Work?

Docosanol is not an antiviral medication in the traditional sense, since it does not attack the cold sore virus. Instead, it works by changing the cell membranes of healthy, uninfected cells. These changes help prevent the cold sore virus from getting into healthy cells, helping to limit the cold sore infection.
 
It is important to understand that once a person has been infected with the cold sore virus, the virus never goes away. It remains inactive in certain nerve cells of the body, waiting to become active again. Treatment with docosanol does not prevent future cold sore outbreaks.
 
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Docosanol -- Medication for Cold Sores

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