Cold sores are hard to treat and can decrease self-confidence. If you suffer from cold sores, you’re not alone. Almost 90 percent of the world’s population will contract the virus that causes cold sores. Some of these individuals will have zero symptoms while others will struggle with cold sores that are painful and unsightly.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can reduce symptoms and speed up the healing process. From medications to natural remedies for cold sores, here are a few ways you can feel better fast.
What Are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are blisters that typically appear around the mouth. Cold sore symptoms include oozing, crusting and fever blisters. Cold sores are usually caused by viral or bacterial infections. The most common cause of cold sores is the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). When cold sores are caused by this particular virus, the disease is colloquially called oral herpes. Cold sores can also result from an infection of HSV-2, also known as genital herpes.
Cold sores can last anywhere from two to four weeks without treatment. Once the breakout clears up, the virus remains dormant in the nerve cells of the body. This means that once you have cold sores, flare-ups can occur even if symptoms disappear entirely. Flare-ups can be caused by increased levels of viral infection as well as sun exposure and stress.
Millions of Americans suffer from cold sores and it can be embarrassing. Since the blisters occur prominently on the face, it can be uncomfortable going out in public during a cold sore outbreak. Fortunately, there are home remedies you can use to shorten the outbreak and prevent them from reoccurring.
Medical Cold Sore Treatment
Cold sores can be treated using over-the-counter medications and prescription antiviral medications. Some of the most common cold sore medications include Abreva, Valtrex, Zovirax, and Famvir. Other medications such as Denavir are designed to treat pain, itchiness, and redness at the site of the cold sore. These medications can help eliminate stubborn or severe cases of cold sores. They may also be effective in treating canker sores if the infection affects the inside of your mouth.
The Best Natural Remedies For Cold Sores
Lemon balm tea and lip balm may help inhibit the activity of the herpes virus. One study published in Phytomedicine found that lemon balm extract had an antiviral effect on the infection. The active ingredients prevented the virus from taking host in cells in monkey kidney cells (1). A second study found that lemon balm inhibited HSV-2 cells during a lab experiment using Vero cells (2). Researchers believe that lemon balm extract may help to prevent future outbreaks while also reducing healing time.
Aloe Vera Gel
The aloe vera plant produces a gel that is soothing and helps to decrease pain symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Dentistry found that ale vera gel had anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce cold sore symptoms. Researchers found that a 0.2-5 percent concentration of aloe vera gel demonstrated significant inhibitory properties on the growth of HSV-1 in Vero cells (3).
For the best results, use aloe vera from a fresh plant. Apply the aloe directly to the cold sore as soon as it appears. Re-apply once or twice daily as needed until the outbreak is gone. The aloe vera may help speed up the healing process and make symptoms more bearable.
Petroleum jelly can help protect the lips from cracks that allow infections to enter the body. The gel helps to soothe and moisturize, which can also help alleviate colds sore symptoms such as crusting. Simply apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to lips daily or as needed during a breakout.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree oil boasts antiviral and antibacterial properties that may help prevent infections such as HSV. One study found that tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil had a direct antiviral effect on HSV infections before and during adsorption, but not after the virus has already entered a host cell (4). A second study found that five-time daily application of six percent tea tree oil gel resulted in faster healing time and reduced symptom severity (5).
Research published at Michigan Medicine showed that witch hazel may decrease inflammation and reduce the size of cold sores. The researchers point to proanthocyanidins as the active ingredient in the cold sore treatment of witch hazel. In the double-blind trial, patients were given two percent witch hazel extract or a placebo six times daily for a period of eight days. The group that received witch hazel had significant improvements in cold sore size and inflammation compared to the placebo group (6).
Witch hazel is a natural astringent, which may help cold sores dry out and heal more quickly. Apply a small dab of diluted witch hazel to cold sores a few times a day to promote healing.
Get Lots of Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps boost the production of white blood cells—the agents responsible for fighting off infections in the human body. This can help your body fight off an infection that causes cold sores more efficiently. Foods that are rich in vitamin C tend to be dark green, red, or orange. Look for berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, spinach, and tomatoes to boost your vitamin C intake.
Ice won’t treat the underlying viral infection or get rid of the disease, but it can help to soothe cold sore symptoms. Place a small amount of ice in a bag and apply directly to the cold sore for 1 to 3 minutes. Make sure to dispose of the bag and ice to prevent spreading the infection to others.
Using a powerful sunscreen such as zinc oxide can help protect lips from infection. Since sun exposure can trigger flare-ups, using zinc oxide can also reduce the risk of cold sore flare-ups. Apply a thin layer of zinc oxide to lips and around the mouth each day before heading out into the sun. You can also use a nourishing lip balm with zinc oxide.
Hydrogen peroxide can help keep your mouth clean when you’re suffering from cold sores. This helps prevent the infection from worsening or spreading to others. Apply a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to a cotton ball or q-tip and dap on cold sores or irritated areas. Alternatively, you can use 70 percent rubbing alcohol for the same benefits.
Lysine is an amino acid that may help to treat cold sore symptoms. The compound is available in both pill and cream form. Experts believe the amino acid may help prevent cold sores by boosting the immune system.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Dermatologica examined the effects of lysine on HSV infections. The treatment groups consisted of 27 individuals who received either a placebo or lysine tablets three times a day for six months. The patients who took lysine had an average of almost 2.5 fewer HSV infections compared to the placebo group. The lysine group also reported decreased outbreak severity and faster healing time (7).
Treating Cold Sores With Natural Remedies
There is no cure for HSV related infections. That means that while cold sore symptoms can be treated, the disease itself can’t be eliminated entirely. For severe cold sore flare-ups or constant recurrences, seek medical advice. You may need to take medication to get the infection under control.
For minor to moderate cold sores, you can use natural cold sore remedies to promote the healing process. Eat healthily and use sunscreen any time you go outside. Apply a lip balm or moisturizer such as aloe vera to treat pain and soothe blisters.