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Docosanol is the only non-prescription drug available that is used in the treatment of cold sores. While the medicine cannot prevent future outbreaks, it can shorten the healing time and duration of symptoms. The product is applied directly to the cold sore and works best if taken at the first sign of an outbreak. Possible side effects include headaches or a stuffy, runny nose.

What Is Docosanol?

Docosanol (Abreva®) is a non-prescription cold sore medication. It is the only non-prescription cold sore treatment approved to shorten the healing time and the duration of cold sore symptoms.
(Click What Is Docosanol Used For? for more information, including possible off-label uses.)

Side Effects

As with any medicine, side effects are possible with docosanol. However, not everyone who takes the drug will experience side effects. In fact, most people tolerate it quite well.
If side effects do occur, in most cases, they are minor and either require no treatment or can easily be treated by you or your healthcare provider. Serious side effects are less common.
Possible side effects of docosanol include, but are not limited to:
  • Headaches
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Stuffy or runny nose.
(Click Side Effects of Docosanol to learn more, including potentially serious side effects that you should report immediately to your healthcare provider.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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