iStock/simarikWhat IS a Cold Sore, Exactly?
Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex type 1 virus. The painful, fluid-filled blisters might appear on your lip, or you may have painful ulcers in your mouth and throat. If you get a cold sore once, you’ll likely have a recurrence. A tingling sensation around your mouth heralds the sore’s imminent arrival, usually within a day or two. The blister swells, bursts, oozes fluid, crusts over, and departs, often in 7 to 10 days. Painful sores on your tongue and inside your lips and cheeks may accompany an initial outbreak. Common triggers of a new outbreak include sunlight, stress, menstruation, and fatigue.
Nearly all of us carry the cold-sore virus, even when it’s not causing symptoms. An estimated 90 percent of adults age 40 and over carry herpes simplex 1 virus, the cause of most cold sores.
Since cold sore blisters come and go, the goal of every cold-sore veteran is to make sure they’re absent a lot more than they’re present. Once the virus is with you, you have to mount a constant campaign to keep it discouraged. However, you’ll learn to recognize the telltale tingling or burning sensation that notifies you of a cold sore’s imminent arrival, and if you’re prepped ahead of time, you can pepper it with your defensive cold sire remedies.
Natural Cold Sore Remedies
1. Time and again, the amino acid lysine emerges as a go-to cold sore remedy. When you’re having a cold sore outbreak, take 3,000 milligrams daily until the sore goes away. Research has shown that it thwarts the replication (copying) of the herpes virus. If you get more than three cold sores a year, you might benefit from taking a daily lysine supplement as a preventive cold sore remedy. The recommended dose is 500 milligrams a day.
2. Herbal healers commonly recommend lemon balm, which is used throughout Europe to treat herpes simplex 1. Its essential oils contain substances that have been shown to inhibit the cold sore virus. In German studies, people with recurrent cold sores who used a lemon balm ointment regularly had less frequent outbreaks, or stopped developing the sores altogether. Look for a lemon balm ointment in health food stores, and use it as needed. Dab the sore with a tincture of myrrh on a cotton swab up to 10 times a day. Myrrh directly attacks the virus that causes herpes. You’ll find myrrh in health food stores.
4. Eat yogurt that contains live acidophilus bacteria. Some studies have shown that the acidophilus bacteria found in some brands of yogurt actually hinder the growth of the virus.
5. Give vinegar a go. When nothing else was handy, folks used a dab of vinegar to head off a cold sore. Vinegar is acidic, and viruses don’t do well in an acidic environment. Use a cotton swab dipped in any kind of vinegar and apply to the affected area, repeating several times a day at the first suggestion of the telltale tingle. Throw the swab away after each use.
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First Aid for Cold Sores
6. Apply ice directly to the cold sore. It will bring down the swelling and ease the pain temporarily. If you use this tactic at the first sign of tingling you may end up with a smaller sore than you otherwise would have.
7. Use an over-the-counter medication like Abreva. OTCs like this are most effective if you take them as soon as you feel the telltale tingle of an oncoming cold sore. The medication contains docosanol, which works by shielding healthy cells from those that have been infected by the virus. If taken immediately, the medication can shorten healing time by a day or so.
8. You can also use aspirin for pain relief, which may have an added benefit. The results of one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that taking 125 milligrams of aspirin a day can cut the time a cold sore-causing herpes infection remains active by 50 percent.
Bolster Your Defenses
9. During a cold sore outbreak, take one 300-milligram capsule of echinacea four times daily. Studies have shown that the herb can boost your immune system’s ability to fight off the virus.
10. Take 1,000 milligrams of the immune-boosting flavonoid quercetin each day in divided doses. Research published in the Journal of Medical Virology has shown that this supplement can speed the healing of cold-sore blisters. It’s available in drugstores or health food stores.
Don’t Crack Up
11. After the sore has crusted over, coat it with some petroleum jelly to prevent it from cracking and bleeding. When you do this, however, make sure you don’t transmit the virus to the stuff in the jar. Instead of using your finger, apply the petroleum jelly with a cotton swab. Use a fresh swab every time.
Prevent Cold Sores
12. Stay away from foods rich in arginine, an essential amino acid that the herpes virus needs in order to thrive. If you want to take maximum precautions to avoid an outbreak, avoid chocolate, cola, beer, peas, nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, and walnuts), gelatin, and whole-grain cereals.
13. Take 15 milligrams of zinc each day. In test-tube studies, this nutrient has been shown to block the replication of the virus. Zinc also boosts the immune system and fortifies the surface tissue on your lips and on the inside of your mouth, making it difficult for the virus to take hold.
14. Try to avoid whatever seems to trigger cold sore outbreaks. Do they appear after you’ve spent time in the sun, or during times of stress? Once you can pinpoint a likely cause, you can take measures to avoid setting the stage for new episodes.
15. Use a lip balm that contains a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. In one study of people with recurrent sores, those who didn’t shield their lips were much more likely to develop blisters during extended exposure to sunlight.
16. Don’t kiss your partner if either of you has a cold sore. Like laughter and yawns, the sores are contagious. Direct contact with an infected person’s saliva is usually necessary to pass the bug along, but if anyone in your house has cold sores, don’t mix up washcloths, towels, drinking glasses, or toothbrushes. When you have a cold sore, avoid touching your eyes. Transmitting the virus to your eyes could cause a nasty infection that could potentially damage your eyesight.
17. Step up your dental hygiene game. Keep your toothbrush in a dry spot, preferably on an open shelf where it’s exposed to circulating air and sunlight. If that means keeping it outside the bathroom, so be it. A damp toothbrush in a moist bathroom is an invitation for viral breeding. Buy a small tube of toothpaste, use it during the outbreak, then throw it away. Always replace your toothbrush after an outbreak.
Should You Call the Doctor for a Cold Sore?
Yes, if this is your first outbreak, if your sores last longer than two weeks, or if you get four or more cold sores a year. You may need the prescription antiviral drug acyclovir (Zovirax). Your doctor will also want to see you if your sore is accompanied by fever, swollen glands, or flulike symptoms, or if it’s so painful that you avoid eating or brushing your teeth. Finally, if you develop eye pain or become sensitive to light, it may mean the virus has spread to your eyes. Get to a doctor quickly: Your vision may be in jeopardy.