Cold sores, also called oral herpes or herpes labialis, are small blisters that appear in or around your mouth (including on the nose and chin sometimes). While there are no cures for cold sores, the symptoms usually subside by themselves in about a few weeks’ time. There are also a few things you can do by yourself to reduce the severity of symptoms and speed up its healing.
Causes Of Cold Sores
Cold sores are caused by a virus called the herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1). Most people are infected with this virus at some point in their life, which is why many have the herpes simplex antibodies in their bloodstream.1 While the virus lasts for life, you might never get cold sores because the virus can remain dormant (inactive) throughout.
Only one-third of the people infected with the virus experience cold sores in their lifetime.
If you’ve just noticed a breakout, it doesn’t mean you got infected recently. Chances are that you contracted it years ago and it became active only now.
The herpes simplex virus is highly contagious. The blister is at its most infectious stage in the first few days when it forms. You contract it either through direct contact with a blister or through saliva. The virus can also be passed on to others even when the person has no symptoms and the virus is lying dormant.2
Factors That Trigger Cold Sores
What makes the dormant virus active and cause cold sores? Here are some of the triggers:
- A break in the skin near the affected area
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Periods (menstruation)
- Consuming alcohol
- Strong sunlight, cold, or wind
- Cold, fever, or flu that makes the immune system weaker
Symptoms Of Cold Sores
The symptoms of a cold sore are quite obvious. When a cold sore is on the brink of appearing, you will get an itching or burning sensation around your mouth. In about 3 days, a small, fluid-filled, painful sore will break out on the edges of the lip, nose, chin, or inside the mouth. Once the blister bursts, it will leave shallow open sores that will ooze fluid and then crust over.3
Tips To Avoid HSV Transmission Via Cold Sores
To avoid spreading the virus when you have a cold sore, thoroughly wash your hands after touching the sore. Do not pick the scab or break blisters since this can cause a secondary infection and scarring. In case you touch the sore, be particularly careful not to touch your eyes immediately after. The fluid inside the blisters is the most infectious. Additionally, avoid these:
- Close contact with young children and babies
- Kissing others
- Sharing drinking glasses, bottles, and cutlery
- Sharing toothbrushes, towels, and other personal items
- Close contact with those who have weak immune systems
- Close contact with children with eczema/ burns
Home Remedies To Treat Cold Sores
Applying a cold pack directly to the sore can give a temporary soothing effect as well as reduce the inflammation. As soon as you feel it forming, start icing the cold sore and repeat regularly. Since the herpes virus needs a warm, moist environment to grow, keeping the sore cool can prevent it from becoming too big and painful.
Sunscreen is great for when you already have a cold sore and want to protect your skin while it is healing and to minimize future outbreaks. Make sure you use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and that you use it daily, particularly when you know that you will be in the sun.
3. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is often used to treat a variety of health issues including cold sores. When applied to cold sores, it may reduce the redness and swelling formed. It also reduces the chances of new outbreaks on the skin. Simply soak a cotton ball in lemon balm and pat it to on the cold sore a few times a day.
4. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe the blisters. It will also protect the area from bacteria. It is best to apply it to the affected skin area a couple of times a day. You can get your hands on aloe vera gel by visiting your local drug store. You can also grow it as a houseplant so that you can use it to treat cold sores and a number of other ailments right at home.
5. Tea Bag
As soon as you get a hunch that a painful cold sore is about to erupt on your skin, apply a teabag to the area. First, soak the tea bag in hot water, let it cool, and then place it on the skin for 5 to 10 minutes. You can even try this after a blister has appeared on the skin to reduce the duration of the outbreak. Repeat the process for up to four times a day, using fresh tea bags each time.
6. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is anti-fungal, antibiotic, and antiseptic, making it a great remedy for cold sore. For best effects, apply tea tree essential oil on the cold sore three or four times a day.
The herpes simplex virus needs a warm, moist environment to grow. When you put salt on a cold sore, it draws the moisture out, making it hard for the virus to grow. To treat your cold sore with salt, simply apply powdered salt on and around the cold sore using your finger or a Q-tip. If you are using your finger, make sure that you wash it with an antibacterial soap first. Leave the salt on for about 40 seconds and then wash it off with warm water. Blot excess water with a soft tissue.
Diet To Follow While Treating Cold Sores
1. Avoid Foods That Are High In Arginine
Arginine is an amino acid that aids in spreading the herpes virus. In fact, it acts as a building block for it. Food rich in arginine include seeds, whole grains, nuts, and chocolate.
2. Eat Foods Rich In Lysine
Eat food that has a high concentration of the amino acid, Lysine. It helps to prevent and treat cold sores by blocking arginine, the amino acid required for viral growth. To include more Lysine in your diet, eat plenty of meat (poultry, lamb, beef), dairy products, fish, and beans
3. Eat Foods That Strengthen Your Immune System
Including fresh fruit and vegetables in your daily diet will aid in boosting the immune system. Cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, garlic, and onions are some of the best vegetables that will help you achieve a better immune system.
Other Treatment Options
Although unsightly and often painful, cold sores are not usually dangerous and won’t cause permanent skin damage.4 Usually, the sore goes away by itself in a week or two, without any treatment. Even though there are no treatments to cure the infection, certain creams can soothe and calm the symptoms. You can buy cold sore creams over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription. These creams will dry out the sore, soften the crusts, or numb the blisters.
If the pain is too much, you can take a painkiller. However, always consult your doctor before taking any medicines. Your doctor may also prescribe antiviral medications in the form of creams and tablets. There are also medicines available to reduce the duration of the cold sore as much as possible.5
It is difficult to rule out the possibility of contracting cold sores completely, but it is possible to reduce the risk of contracting it by taking the necessary precautions. Since there is no absolute cure for cold sores, all you can do is try to reduce the number of outbreaks. The best way to do this is to avoid known triggers, pay attention to your health in general, and wear sunblock when you step out. But, remember, if you get cold sores often, consulting a doctor is best.