How to treat cold sores? We’ve all been there before. You have a big event you’ve been preparing for and suddenly, you feel a tingling, burning sensation on your lip. You lie to yourself and say “it’s probably just a pimple”…and you sincerely plead with the skin gods. But you know better – something’s brewing.
The next day, a small, fluid filled blister makes it debut on the border of your lip. Great- meet your BFF for the next two agonizing weeks. The dreaded cold sore has made its appearance in your life and is like a dark cloud looming over you.
Fear not! You are not alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2/3rds of the population have suffered from cold sores and carry the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is the virus that causes cold sores.
There are numerous triggers for cold sores, and we’ll dive into what causes a cold sore, how to manage symptoms, and classic cold sore remedies.
What is a Cold Sore?
The herpes simplex virus is highly infectious and incurable. It is typically transmitted from direct oral contact, like kissing or by sharing utensils like lip balm.
The herpes simplex virus type 1 is closely related to the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the virus that causes genital herpes. Herpes simplex virus often spends its time dormant and inactive. In many people, they may experience 1-2 cold sores in their entire lifetime. In others, cold sores are a semi-regular occurrence and can be triggered by numerous factors, including:
- viral infection
- hormonal changes
- exposure to sun
- changes in the immune system
How Long Do Cold Sores Last?
The symptoms that cold sores present are typically in three stages. First is the stinging and tingling stage. This occurs the day before the initial outbreak of blisters happen.
The next stage of a cold sore are the blisters. The blisters are usually small and filled with fluid and typically form on the border of your lips and skin of the face. People can experience more than one blister at a time.
The last stage of a cold sores are when the blisters burst and leave open sores that ooze fluid. These sores will then crust over and scab and the initial outbreak can last a few days. Total healing time of cold sores typically lasts from 10-14 days. During someone’s first cold sore outbreak, other symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
You should go see a doctor when:
- You are experiencing a cold sore and it doesn’t heal within two weeks
- if the symptoms are severe
- if the recurrences are frequent
- if you have an impaired immune system
- if you are experiencing irritation in your eyes.
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore
You’re looking for ways to part with your cold sore fast. Here’s our recommendations on the right things to do to treat your pesky cold sore.
- Prevention is the best treatment: Preventing a cold sore is the best cold sore remedy. This one may seem obvious but avoid skin-to-skin contact with anyone with a cold sore. Highest risk of transmitting HSV-1 is prevalent in open sore secretions. Avoid sharing items such as utensils, straws, lip balms, and napkins as the virus can also be transmitted through objects. Washing your hands effectively and frequently will also reduce risk of infection because of how frequently we touch our faces.
- Keep your stress at bay: stress is a common trigger for the virus so keeping up a healthy lifestyle and managing your stress is key in keeping breakouts to a minimum. Regularly exercising, eating good, whole foods, and doing things that are good for your mental health like meditating or treating yourself with a self-care routine are great ways to decompress and keep your stress levels low.
- Aloe vera: According to a 2016 study, aloe vera contains anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties that help inhibit the HSV-1 virus. This plant is easy to get and is also found in many homes. The gel inside a leaf can be applied directly to the infected area safely.
- Peppermint oil: peppermint oil can be used as a home remedy of cold sores because of its anti-viral properties. Mix with a milder oil like almond oil and apply topically. The cooling sensation of the peppermint also a nice bonus to cooling down the infected area.
- Lemon balm: a proven cold sore killer, lemon balm is an essential oil that can be applied on cold sores and are proven to speed up the healing process. In an 2011 study, a group of people who applied lemon balm to the cold sores experienced significantly smaller cold sores and faster healing compared to a group of people who didn’t use the balm.
- Increase L-Lysine intake : for people who experience more frequent outbreaks of cold sores, then taking a lysine supplement can help keep outbreaks at bay. L-lysine is an amino acid that can be taken in supplement form or in foods like wild-caught fish and organic poultry and is proven in preventing cold sores. L-lysine supplements were given to 45 patients with frequently recurring cold sore outbreaks with varying periods of 2 months to 3 years. The frequency of outbreaks were reduced, and when those 45 people stopped taking lysine supplements, outbreaks returned within 1-4 weeks.
- Decrease L-arginine intake: L-arginine is the amino acid required for the HSV-1 to replicate so suppressing your intake of L-arginine will help in reducing outbreaks. Avoid foods like nuts, grains, seeds, beer, cola, and chocolate.
- Act quick with Zinc: A study showed that people who applied a zinc-oxide cream on their cold sores within 24 hours of the outbreak experienced a shorter duration of their cold sores. You can also up your zinc intake by eating foods like grass-fed beef, mushrooms, organ meats (liver, kidney) and wild-caught fish.
How to Treat Cold Sores: Final Thoughts
Getting a cold sore can seem like the biggest inconvenience due to their placement on your face, grotesque appearance and long healing time. Prevention and treatment of cold sores are heavily reliant on keeping a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Eating foods rich with lysine, zinc, applying SPF to your lips and avoiding foods with arginine are all pro-active steps you can take to keep outbreaks in remission, especially if you’re someone that experiences regular lesions.
If an outbreak does occur, then applying topical creams or ointments containing lemon balm essential oil, zinc oxide and peppermint oil and aloe vera will speed up healing and inhibit virus replication. Lastly, taking care of yourself mentally and reducing stress will not only curb your outbreaks, but will make you happier.
A life without cold sores? Blessed.