Does Hydrocortisone Work for Cold Sores?

Hydrocortisone is a widely available anti-inflammatory drug, sold over the counter in cream form or available as tablets 2. It is used topically to treat a variety of skin conditions and has numerous applications as an oral or intravenous medicine. Its side effects are minimal when used in low dosages or in short-term situations, such as transient irritations. A blend of hydrocortisone and acyclovir can be used to treat cold sores 2.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Hydrocortisone Uses

Corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone are used to limit the ability of cells to become swollen and inflamed 2. Hydrocortisone creams are used topically to treat a variety of skin conditions, including psoriasis and a variety of rashes 2. Low-percentage hydrocortisone creams are available over the counter for self-medication, while higher-percentage creams are available solely as a prescription drug 2. Its use is not recommended on cracked or broken skin, cuts, lesions, ulcerations or viral infections such as cold sores.

Cold Sores

Cold sores are ulcerated areas on the delicate membranes of the mouth and lips. They're caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is easily transferred from one person to another by contact, even incidental contact. Cold sores will go away on their own after a few days as long as they don't become infected. It's important for the infected person to practice good personal hygiene, with frequent hand washing and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs. Once the initial infection has taken place, further recurrent outbreaks are very likely.

Hydrocortisone-Acyclovir Blend

Hydrocortisone itself has no effect on viral infections, including cold sores 2. However, a blend of hydrocortisone and acyclovir, a potent antiviral drug, can be used effectively 2. The cream acts on the cold sore in two ways. The acyclovir attacks the virus directly, inhibiting its reproduction. The hydrocortisone's anti-inflammatory action reduces swelling and itching in the cold sore 2. Together, they speed healing and reduce the likelihood of the cold sore becoming seriously ulcerated or infected.


Before applying the hydrocortisone-acyclovir blend, carefully wash your hands and then wash and dry the area surrounding the cold sore 2. Apply enough cream to cover the cold sore and its surrounding area thinly but thoroughly. Start outside the cold sore and work inward, to prevent spreading the virus. Wash your hands carefully when you're done, and wipe the faucets with a disinfectant wipe. Don't shower for 30 minutes after applying the cream, and don't apply makeup or a bandage over the cold sore. Repeat the application five times per day for five days. Avoid rubbing the sore itself, which can spread the virus.