If you’ve ever had a cold sore you know it’s not a pleasant experience, so here is all the information I’ve collected about them, what they are caused by, how they spread, and how to treat them. If you know of any more remedies, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them.
CAUSES OF COLD SORES
The Herpes virus that causes cold sores has two types – HSV 1 and HSV 2. In most cases, HSV 1 is the cause. Generally HSV 1 causes oral herpes and HSV 2 causes genital herpes, but not necessarily, both can infect any area of the body.
EXPOSURE TO VIRUS
Herpes is highly contagious and spreads quickly from one person to the other. Cold sores can be caused by close contact like hugging and kissing an infected person. It may be that a person has recovered from cold sore and the symptoms are not visible but their saliva may still contain the virus. Herpes is contracted primarily through direct skin contact with an infected individual. In some cases the virus responsible for cold sores may also be passed on through indirect contact such as through sharing a lip balm or towel.The virus normally passes through tiny lesions or breaks in the skin, generally mucous membranes in the oral and genital areas, although microscopic abrasions that would go unnoticed could also allow for passage of the virus.
Anyone suffering from eczema or conditions that cause a suppressed immunity like AIDs or cancer, or someone who has gone through an organ transplant is at high risk and it would be advisable to avoid interacting with people from these categories if you have an active infection.
Under normal circumstances, the symptoms of cold sores surface around twenty days after exposure and infection, though in some cases the symptoms may not become apparent until much later. This however, does not mean that you are not infected and you could still be a carrier of the virus and pose a risk of infection to others.
There may be pain or tingling one to two days before the cold sores appear. Small, painful and fluid-filled red or brown blisters can be seen on the skin. Blisters may burst and ooze. Once infected by the virus you may experience headaches, irritability, or fever. You may have problems swallowing. Itching and swelling of lips are common. Lymph nodes on the neck may also swell. Drooling may be seen among small children. Symptoms generally last from seven to ten days.
Some triggers like pregnancy, lips or gum injury, dental treatment, cosmetic surgery, fatigue, stress, hormonal changes etc may cause cold sore to reoccur. Although there are many possible triggers for the recurrence of cold sores inside the mouth, more often than not, a connection can be drawn between recurrent outbreaks of cold sores and periods of weakened immunity. This means that you are more likely to experience a recurrence when you are fatigued, have health conditions or ailments that compromise immunity, excessive stress or depression, are overworked, or even when you are experiencing your menstrual cycle. At other times, excess alcohol consumption, prolonged to exposure to sunlight, certain medications, or restrictive or deficient diets can also act as triggers.
There’s no permanent cure for cold sores, however, there are plenty of effective methods of minimizing the occurrence and severity of outbreaks. Cold sores usually clear up on their own without any treatments, but treatment with home remedies can provide relief and shorten the length of time the symptoms are present.
There are however certain circumstances under which it would be advisable to seek a doctor’s advice:
- If you suffer from a compromised or weakened immune system due to a pre-existing health condition.
- If the cold sores are persistent and linger for more than two weeks.
- If the symptoms are severe or if cold sore outbreaks are very frequent.
- If you also experience irritation in the eyes (infection in the eye can cause scarring of the cornea and lead to blindness.)
During an outbreak, it would be advisable to avoid consuming citrus fruits like oranges and lemons as they may cause severe irritation. It would also be best to avoid any spicy or salty, or hard, crisp foods that could irritate the skin. Avoid drinking tea and coffee. Eat a vitamin rich diet that includes vitamin A, C and E. Zinc and iron are also necessary. Eat fresh food high in antioxidants and complex carbohydrates, lots of fruits and green leafy vegetables. Avoid processed food.
Lysine is an essential amino acid, we must get it through food or supplements because the body can’t make it on its own. It’s used to make protein, which we need to produce infection-fighting antibodies, enzymes, hormones, and body tissues. Lysine has been found to inhibit the spread of the herpes simplex virus.
Although we get lysine through food sources such as milk, eggs, cheese, wheat germ, and brewer’s yeast, what appears to be most important is the ratio of lysine to another amino acid, arginine. They compete with each other for absorption in the intestines, so the less arginine there is in the diet, the more lysine is absorbed. Foods that are rich in arginine include meats, dairy produce, chocolate, nuts, seeds, and corn grains. These foods should be limited but it is not necessary to avoid them completely.
Lysine supplements (e.g. 1,000 mg taken three times a day) may help to shorten the duration of cold sores. Lysine ointment – Researchers found that the ointment produced full resolution in 40% of participants by the third day and in 87% by the end of the sixth day.
Reishi and Astragalus
Reishi, also called Ganoderma Lucidum is a type of mushroom that has a long history of use in traditional Asian medicine to strengthen the immune system. Preliminary evidence shows that reishi may inhibit the spread of the herpes virus. A typical dose is 600 milligrams once or twice a day. Reishi is available in powder or supplement form. Reishi can delay blood clotting, so consult your doctor before taking reishi if you are taking aspirin, warfarin (coumadin), or any other medications or supplements that interfere with clotting.
In traditional Chinese medicine, reishi is often used in conjunction with a herb called astragalus. Astragalus has been found to improve immune function in people with herpes simplex keratitis.
Echinacea and goldenseal
A combination herbal formula made from the Echinacea and goldenseal herbs will contain both antiviral and astringent properties. It can be used to bolster the body’s resistance to infection and also helps in stimulating the immune system and detoxifying the blood. Additionally, the formula also soothes the irritated mucous membranes within the body. Take one dropper full a day for no more than 3 days. Also put a few drops on a cotton ball and place on the affected area for a few minutes several times a day.
Vitamin B complex
A study by the University of Heidelberg found that peppermint essential oil was found to penetrate the skin and have a direct virucidal effect against the herpes simplex virus. Peppermint oil was also found to be active against an acyclovir-resistant strain of the herpes simplex virus. Although it’s promising, peppermint oil shouldn’t be used until studies have established its safety as it can be toxic even in small amounts. Drinking peppermint tea is fine though, as is applying the tea bag directly onto the cold sore.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has antiviral properties. It contains a high concentration of polyphenols and appears to minimize herpes outbreaks. Brewed as a tea lemon balm can be taken internally.
Cream: In a research study conducted in hospitals and dermatology clinics in Germany, lemon balm cream promoted the healing of blisters in five days compared to 10 days in the control group. Used regularly, lemon balm cream may decrease the frequency of recurrences.
Also called bee propolis, is a brownish, resinous substance. Bees collect it from poplar and conifer buds and use it to “cement” their hives and keep them germ-free. A study found that propolis was active against herpes simplex 1 virus. It is believed to work by preventing the virus from entering body cells and by blocking the replication and spread of the virus.
A bacteria that has helped some cold sore sufferers. Raw yogurt is a good source of Acidophilus but it is destroyed by the modern pasteurizing processes, you can buy live Acidophilus in capsules in the chilled section of the health food store. They apparently work best when taken with a dairy product. Or, you can put the contents of three or four capsules into a container of yogurt stir it well and leave it in the fridge for a day. Then you have an effective natural cold sore remedy which you can eat or apply directly onto your cold sores.
Studies show that glycyrrhizic acid, an ingredient in licorice, stops the cold sore virus cells dead in their tracks – so try chewing a licorice whip. Just be sure it’s made from real licorice, as most “licorice” candy is simply flavored with anise. If the ingredient list reads “licorice mass,” the product contains real licorice. You could also try buying some licorice powder and sprinkling it on the sore, or mix up a cream with a pinch of licorice power and some aloe vera, then apply to the sore.
Crushed red grapes rubbed over cold sores may help as they contain Resveratol which can suppress the virus. Resveratrol has been shown to be active against the herpes simplex virus in laboratory studies. A study by the Northeastern Ohio University demonstrated that resveratrol cream applied topically two, three, or five times a day effectively suppressed cold sore development if it was applied one or 6 hours after infection. Resveratrol cream was also found to be as effective as 5% acyclovir ointment (Zovirax). Resveratrol cream also effectively suppressed cold sore formation in animals with herpes simplex infection that was resistant to acyclovir. No side effects were reported.
Vanilla extract, the real, good, pure, vanilla extract, is a natural cold sore remedy some people swear by. The thought process is that its alcohol based, and running along those lines, makes it hard for the virus to thrive and either wipes it out or lessens the severity and length of the outbreak. If you do use vanilla, try and get it organic, and try to start using it the second you feel the tingling. Soak cotton pad or swab in vanilla until thoroughly saturated. Apply directly to sore, holding the swab or pad in place for a minute or so. Do this four times daily until no longer needed.
Anyone who had a parent that put hydrogen peroxide on a scrape knows that it’s not exactly pleasant. The good news is that self-applied it’s at least less traumatic. Love it or hate it, the solution can be an effective cold sore remedy. It disinfects, speeding up healing, and makes it hard for the surfaced sore to spread or worsen. Soak a cotton ball and place it directly on your sore – it’s probably going to sting – and hold it there for a few seconds, or dab it around. Let it be for 5 minutes or so, allowing it to do its job, before rinsing off.
Cornstarch can help relieve the itchy burning pain of a sore when directly applied. The less obvious reason as to why cornstarch makes a pleasant home remedy for cold sores is the fact that it neutralizes the pH of the sore. The virus thrives in an overly acidic environment, and cornstarch creates an alkaline state. To seek relief, and shorten the duration of your cold sore, simply mix up a smooth paste from a tablespoon of cornstarch and a teaspoon of water. Put a dab on your cold sore before bed, and rinse off gently with water in the morning.
Soak 1 black tea bag in cool water. Squeeze the tea bag to remove excess liquid. Apply the moistened tea bag directly onto the fever blister. Tea contains anti-viral agents such as tannic acid that can help the body’s defense system eliminate the herpes simplex virus. Allow the tea bag to soak on the fever blister for 15 minutes. Rinse your face with cool water to remove leftover tea drippings. Repeat this treatment two times daily for best results.
Covering a cold sore with aloe vera or other remedial cream will speed healing and help protect it from secondary infection with bacteria. However, attempting to camouflage a cold sore with makeup often aggravates the problem, as the chemicals in makeup can make the sore worse.
When a cold sore’s not making itself a huge lip ache, it’s snoozing in the nerves below your skin, just waiting for a reason to wake up. And what sets off its alarm clock? Fever, infection, colds and flu, ultraviolet radiation such as a sunburn, stress, fatigue, changes in the immune system, trauma, food allergies, menstruation, dental work.
Eat well, rest well, and keep your immune system working in top form. Practice stress-busting techniques like exercise, meditation, yoga or reading.
Protect Your Lips from the Sun
Applying sunscreen to your lips may help prevent sun-induced recurrences of cold sores. Look for a sunscreen designed especially for the lips that has an SPF of 15 or higher.
Don’t touch it
It may sound obvious, but it can be near an impossible to resist picking at that crusty little patch by your mouth. Almost subconsciously you can end up bothering it, or very consciously, you just want to peel it off and be done with it. Whatever your motive, resist touching the sore; even just reaching up to touch it and see if it somehow shrunk – as those actions can cause a bacterial infection, and spread it.
Change Your Toothbrush
You don’t have to go dump every single thing you own when you get a cold sore, but its best to get rid of some things that come in contact with your lips/mouth area such as toothbrush, lip balm, or make up tools. While you’re always contagious, it’s easiest spread the virus when there’s an open blister and you may keep causes outbreaks if you continue using contaminated items.
Wash your hands each and every time you touch, or even think you touch, your cold sore. This can help stop it from spreading, both on yourself and to others.