Home Remedies for Cold Sores

Home Remedies for Cold Sores

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  1. There it is – that familiar tingly feeling in the corner of your mouth.  You know what’s coming. Sure enough, you look in the mirror the next morning to see a tiny cluster of blisters on your lip. Worse, you know this is just the beginning, and those tiny blisters are going to flare into the cold sore from hell – a painful oozing crusted mass that soon begins to itch like no other. As you search hopelessly through the medicine cabinet, you consider what would look worse – a red, oozing cold sore or a neon-colored band-aid plastered across your lip? Although the results may not be immediate, there are some home remedies for cold sores which may allow you to forego neon band-aid accessories.

    What Causes a Cold Sore?

    Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) which infects more than 50 percent of the U.S. population by the time they are in their 20s.  The virus is typically contracted during childhood from someone else’s infected saliva (herpes simplex virus 2 is the sexually transmitted version). Once you have been infected, the virus becomes a permanent resident in your body, often lying dormant in your nerve cells. Some individuals may never experience any symptoms, while for others the virus produces painful and unsightly sores.

    Fever blisters can last for a week or more. As the symptoms begin to fade, the virus takes sanctuary once again in the facial nerves just below the skin. A stressful event, increased exposure to the sun, or an illness can reactivate HSV-1 later and lead to the formation of new sores in the same spot.

    Although many people use the term “canker sore” when talking about a cold sore, they are two totally different beasts. Canker sores are bacterial infections inside the mouth, characterized by small white areas surrounded by reddened tissue. Unlike cold sores, canker sores are not contagious.

    Can Cold Sores be Cured?

    There is no cure for cold sores, and unfortunately they love to visit over and over again for some people, always settling in the same locations. Luckily there are some home remedies for cold sores that can ease the discomfort and speed the healing process.

    • Petroleum jelly – Covering cold sores with petroleum jelly will speed up the healing process while protecting against secondary bacterial infections. Use a clean cotton swab to apply the jelly and make sure you do not “double-dip” into the jar after touching the swab to a sore.
    • Local anesthetic ointment – Applying an ointment containing benzocaine on a cold sore can help alleviate the pain temporarily. Avoid attempting to cover a sore with makeup, as this could exacerbate the discomfort and make a cold sore worse. Do not share lipstick, chapstick or other makeup items during an outbreak of HSV-1.
    • Replace your toothbrush – Replace your toothbrush once the blisters have appeared. It’s a good idea to get another new toothbrush once the sores have faded away. Your toothbrush can harbor HSV-1 for days. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma exposed a brand new toothbrush to the virus for just 10 minutes. Seven days later 50 percent of the disease-producing virus remained!
    • Do not touch – Never pick, scratch or squeeze your cold sore as this could cause a secondary bacterial infection; thereby complicating and prolonging healing time. Cold sores are extremely contagious so avoid sharing eating utensils, cups, towels or kissing someone during a breakout. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes or genitals after touching the cold sore.
    • Licorice – Studies have shown that an ingredient found in real licorice called glycyrrhizic acid, stops HSV-1 cells dead. Try chewing a piece of licorice, but make sure it is made with real licorice and not with anise. If the ingredients include “licorice mass” then it’s the real deal.  You could also try applying a licorice “poultice” by mixing licorice powder with a smidgen of shortening. As with any medicine, do not continue use over a long period of time.
    • Ice packs – Applying an ice pack to a newly arrived cold sore could cut down on the amount of time it takes for the sore to disappear. Cold compresses and ice packs can also bring some relief for discomfort.
    • Milk – Dip a cotton ball in milk and apply it directly to the cold sore to relieve pain and speed healing. Using milk when you feel that first tingling of an impending cold sore can hasten the healing process.
    • Zinc – Several studies have shown application of a water-based zinc solution to the tingling area before a cold sore makes its debut, can speed healing time. Zinc sulfate in camphorated water was found to be extremely effective, healing sores in an average of 5.3 days. Apply the solution every 30 to 60 minute when you feel a cold sore beginning.
    • Lysine – A dermatologist at Humana Hospital in Overland Park, Kansas, recommends that people who suffer with cold sores three times or more a year, supplement their diet with a daily dose of 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams of amino acid lysine. Double the dosage when you begin to feel the tingly, itchy sensation of an oncoming sore.
    • Witch hazel or alcohol – Some people believe if you dab witch hazel or alcohol on the sore after breaking it open, the sore will dry up faster.

    Preventing Cold Sores

    Since sores can show up during stressful times, sucking on zinc lozenges during times of increased anxiety may help prevent an outbreak by boosting immunity. Exercise is also a great stress-buster and is believed to boost the immune system, making it easier to avoid a breakout.

    Sun exposure is another trigger for activating HSV-1, so using a good chapstick that contains a strong sunscreen can help reduce sun-induced recurrences.

    Avoiding arginine-rich foods such as chocolate, cola, grain cereals, peas, cashews, peanuts, beer, and gelatin can cut back on occurrences of cold sores. HSV-1 uses arginine as an essential amino acid for its metabolism.

    Exercise, stress reduction, sun protection and avoidance of common triggers – these are all helpful for reducing the incidence of cold sores.

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