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Can Taking Vitamin B12 Shorten Cold Sores?

author image M. Gideon Hoyle
M. Gideon Hoyle is a writer living outside of Houston. Previously, he produced brochures and a wide variety of other materials for a nonprofit educational foundation. He now specializes in topics related to health, exercise and nutrition, publishing for various websites.

Cold sores are common, highly contagious skin lesions triggered by infection with herpes simplex virus type 1, also called HSV-1. They differ from common non-contagious skin lesions called canker sores. Taking vitamin B-12 will not shorten the duration of a cold sore outbreak. You can potentially shorten a cold sore outbreak with certain prescription medications. Use of vitamin B-12 may help prevent the recurrence of canker sores. Consult your doctor before using any cold or canker sore remedy.

Cold Sore Basics

People most typically acquire an HSV-1 infection in their preschool years as a result of close or direct contact with previously infected adults or children, according to the Nemours Foundation’s TeensHealth website. Once acquired, the virus migrates to nerve cell groups called ganglia and goes dormant. It can reactivate and trigger the onset of a cold sore in circumstances that include stress, illness, sun exposure and hormonal changes such as those associated with menstruation. While cold sores most commonly appear on your lips, they can also appear on your chin, nostrils, fingers, gums or the roof of your mouth.

Shortening Cold Sore Outbreaks

Without treatment, a cold sore will typically heal on its own within roughly two weeks. Use of an oral antiviral medication can potentially shorten the duration of a cold sore by a small amount if you start treatment as soon as possible at the beginning of an outbreak, reports. Medications used for this purpose include famcyclovir, valacyclovir and acyclovir. Your doctor may prescribe an oral antiviral if you develop related illnesses during a cold sore outbreak, develop cold sores very frequently or have identifiable cold sore triggers and expect to encounter those triggers during your day-to-day routine.

Canker Sores and B-12

A canker sore, also called aphthous stomatitis, typically appears in areas of the mouth that include your tongue or the inner linings of your cheeks or lips. Most commonly, they first appear between the ages of 10 and 20, and manifest as small round or oval lesions that burst open within a day of formation. No one knows exactly what causes canker sores, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus explains. Abnormally low levels of vitamin B-12, or another B vitamin called folate, may play a role. If you frequently develop canker sores, your doctor may ask you to take B-12 or folate in order to prevent the onset of future outbreaks.


The Mayo Clinic lists several treatments that can potentially ease your discomfort during a cold sore outbreak. They include applications of cold or heat at the site of a sore, use of nonprescription ointments that contain benzocaine or lidocaine, avoiding touching a sore or disturbing it in any way and use of nonprescription painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Don’t use a benzocaine-containing ointment on a child under the age of 2 without a doctor’s explicit advice. Also speak to your doctor before giving aspirin to a child or teenager.

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