Cold sores (or fever blisters) are caused by a form of the Herpes Simplex Virus known as HSV-1. They exhibit as painful ulcers around the mouth and lips. This virus is similar (but not the same) as the virus that causes genital herpes, which is HSV-2. While they are different viruses, both can be found on the lips and on the genitalia. Those infected with either virus can also spread the viruses through close personal contact during kissing, oral sex, or any oral contact.
Cold sores are uncomfortable, embarrassing and itchy. They’re the last thing that you want to deal with. Luckily, there are steps you can take to treat a sore once it emerges. Even better, there are ways to stop a cold sore in its tracks and prevent an outbreak altogether.
Causes of Cold Sores
Cold sores are caused when the HSVs come in contact with abraded skin or oral mucosa tissue of the mouth. Once entered, this virus never leaves the body. These viruses move from mouth to the central nervous system and remain latent. When they reactivate, they form blisters or small sores on and around the lips. Some of the common causes that trigger cold sores are:
- Stress and anxiety
- Deep sadness
- Exposure to sunlight
- Local skin trauma
- Lip tattooing
- Neural or dental surgery
Symptoms of Cold Sores
Following symptoms are usually observed in case of cold sores:
- Acute herpetic gingivostomatitis, which refers to inflammation of mucosa of gums and cheeks
- Itching on the infected area
- Red raised blisters
- Painful ulcers
- Tongue and mouth paining
- Pain around the mouth
- Sore throat
- Burning sensation
- Glands in the neck or other body parts gets swollen
- Tenderness and tingling
- Lip swelling
- Elevated body temperature
Home Remedies for Cold Sores
Cold sores usually go away on their own within a week or so. Nevertheless, you can use some simple and effective home remedies as soon as you experience the telltale tingling to reduce the duration of an outbreak and ease the discomfort.
Lysine is an amino acid that some studies have shown to help treat and prevent cold sore outbreaks by blocking arginine, which is another amino acid that is required for viral growth.
Lysine-rich foods include fish, meat (poultry, lamb, beef), dairy products, mung bean sprouts, and beans.
- You can also take a lysine supplement. The dosage is usually 500-1000 mg every day taken on an empty stomach. The safe limit of lysine is less than 3000 mg a day, so don’t take any more than the recommended dosage.
2. Ice Pack
One of the fastest and simplest home remedies for cold sores is to use an ice pack. The herpes virus requires a moist, warm environment to grow. Cool the sore and keep it from warming back up to prevent it from growing bigger and to speed up healing.
- Take some ice cubes. Put them directly on the cold sores for some time. Ice will provide instant relief in the swelling.
- Hold it as long as possible, then, apply some Vaseline on the infected area to prevent bacterial attack.
- For best results, repeat the application regularly.
Garlic has enzymes that work as antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agents that help heal cold sores.
- Cut a garlic clove into halves.
- Crush one-half and apply it on the affected area.
- Leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat the process 3-5 times a day.
Warning: You may feel a burning sensation when applying raw garlic on the blister-like lesions.
Moisten your finger and then dip it in regular table salt. Put your salty finger on the cold sore and press gently for 30 seconds to allow the salt time to enter the sore. Wash your hands with hot, soapy water after touching the sore.
5. Licorice Root
Licorice root prevents and treats cold sores. It has an active ingredient called glycyrrhizin with anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.
- Mix one tablespoon of licorice root powder and 1/2 teaspoon of water.
- Apply it on your cold sore using a cotton swab or your fingertip (make sure your hands are clean), and leave it on for a few hours.
- Do this several times a day.
If you are prone to cold sores, eat this herb on a regular basis to help minimize outbreaks. If you have high blood pressure, avoid taking licorice root as it raises blood pressure and leads to low levels of potassium.
6. Cornstarch Paste
Cornstarch paste soothes cold sores and provides relief in the itchy burning pain. It is a natural home remedy for cold sores.
- Take one tablespoon of cornstarch in a bowl. Mix one teaspoon of fresh water in it.
- Stir it well and slowly add more water to form a paste.
- Apply it directly on the cold sores before going to sleep.
- Wash it off with clean water in the morning.
7. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm soothes discomfort, speeds up the healing process, and prevents the infection from spreading. It contains tannins and polyphenolic compounds that contribute to its antiviral effects. It is the fast way to get rid of cold sores overnight.
- Steep 2 teaspoons of dried lemon balm leaves in one liter of hot water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink 3-4 cups of this herbal tea daily.
- Alternatively, you can apply lemon balm tea or essential oil on your cold sore three to five times a day.
8. Aloe Vera
Aloe reduces pain and speeds along the healing process, so it’s a really good thing to use to help heal your cold sore.
- Cut one fleshy aloe vera leaf. Dab the gel directly on the sores.
- If aloe plant is not available, you can use packaged aloe vera gel.
9. Cold Milk
Whole milk contains immunoglobulins that inhibit the virus that causes cold sores. Furthermore, cold milk soothes the tingling sensation and discomfort.
- Soak a cotton ball in cold, whole milk.
- Apply it on the affected area and leave it on for 10 minutes.
- Do this twice a day.
10. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil possesses anti-fungal, antiseptic, and antibiotic properties. For healing cold sores, tea tree oil is an effective home remedy.
- Soak a cotton ball in some tea tree oil.
- Apply the soaked cotton ball directly on the sores and let it dry up.
- Practice it twice a day for better results.
Echinacea is a powerful herb that boosts the immune system and has antiviral effects.
- Dab Echinacea liquid extract on the affected area.
- You can also drink Echinacea tea, or take it in the form of tincture or capsules.
Warning: Avoid long-term use of this herb; do not take it for more than eight weeks. It may also interact with certain medications, so consult your doctor before taking Echinacea.
12. Nail Polish Remover
Believe it or not, many people have actually tried this remedy and even found it effective. Acetone is believed to help dry out a cold sore.
- Dip a cotton ball in acetone nail polish remover.
- Dab it on the cold sore.
- Do this several times a day, preferably once an hour.
Warning: Keep your mouth closed while applying nail polish remover on the sores.
Foods to Avoid
Stay away from acidic foods. This is particularly important if they will come in contact with the cold sore should you eat them. The herpes virus thrives in an acidic environment, so it is important to keep all acid away from the sores. Acidic foods to avoid include citrus fruits, tomatoes and anything with vinegar.
Avoid foods that are high in arginine. Arginine is also an amino acid, but one that serves as a building block for the herpes virus, helping it to spread. The highest concentrations of arginine are found in whole grains, seeds, nuts and chocolate.
How to Prevent Cold Sores
Examine your potential outbreak triggers. Certain triggers are tied to the likelihood of a person experiencing future outbreaks as well. These triggers include:
- Fever of any kind (whether from another viral or a bacterial infection)
- Stress of any kind (physical, mental, or emotional)
- Sun Exposure
Examine your risk for future outbreaks. Many of those who test positive for the HSV-1 virus do not experience cold sores, and many more don’t have recurrent cold sores after initial outbreaks. However, those at a higher risk for recurrent cold sores include those with:
- A weakened immune system
- Cancer who are taking chemotherapy
- HIV/AIDS, which is a cause of immunosuppression
- Severe burns
- An organ transplant, which means the patient is taking immunosuppressant drugs to prevent organ rejection
Avoid too much time in the sun. Since sun exposure is a trigger for cold sore outbreaks, you should minimize your time in the sun. Remember always to wear sunscreen as well to minimize effects when you are outside.
Boost your immune system. In addition to diet and exercise, you can take other steps to boost your immune system as well. These steps include not smoking, drinking only in moderation, avoiding sickness and other infections by washing your hands regularly, and controlling your blood pressure.
Get plenty of sleep. Poor sleep schedules have an effect on both stress and fatigue levels. Ensure that you get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
Eat a balanced diet. A balanced, nutritious diet can help reduce triggers like fatigue and stress. The main components of a healthy diet include:
- Beans and legumes, which are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. They do contain phytic acid, but normal cooking should release most of the minerals and allow them to be absorbed by your body.
- Complex carbohydrates versus simple sugars. This means that you should stay away from processed and packaged foods.
- Increased amounts of fish and lean poultry in your diet (as well as decreasing the amounts of red meat).
- Lots of fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. Include a variety of both fruits (except citrus) and vegetables.
- Don’t forget to keep drinking water and staying hydrated. Drink at least 6-8 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
Avoid stress. Though often unavoidable at work or at home, try to avoid stressful situations as much as possible. This can mean walking away from a situation or something as simple as taking a few minutes away from your desk at work. Other steps you can take to avoid stress or at least balance it include:
- Spending time with friends.
- Going for a walk or to the gym.
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