Having cold sores can be unappealing. It’s not only embarrassing, but it is also painful. Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that appear on the lips and around the mouth. The blisters tend to crack open, ooze, and crust, which lasts for seven to ten days. There is no cure for cold sores or for the virus (herpes simplex) that caused it. However, there are various home remedies that can provide fast relief and comfort to help alleviate the symptoms of cold sores.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. About 90 percent of people around the world have been exposed to the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1. Most of them do not show any symptoms but certain people develop cold sores including recurring breakouts.
HSV invades the skin and travels from the epidermis to the nerve roots where it will become inactive. When the virus is triggered and reactivated, the virus will stomp into the cells of the outer layer of the skin, which causes fluid-filled blisters to come out. The virus remains dormant in the nerve roots as long as the person lives and can be activated anytime. Reactivation of the virus can be triggered by illnesses, surgery, stress, sun exposure, and hormonal imbalances. A cold sore is a contagious disease, hence, the virus is spread through direct contact with the infected person.
What are the common symptoms of cold sores?
Dealing with cold sores can be understood in five stages. The first phase starts when the initial sign of the cold sore appears. This stage is called the prodromal stage. This stage lasts until the blisters appear. The duration of this stage may last up to two days. Around 40 to 60 percent of HSV-positive patients have undergone through this period, and they experienced itching, tingling, erythema, inflammation, hypersensitivity, or soreness on the site where the blister erupts.
These symptoms are felt on the corners of the lower or upper lip. In some cases, these symptoms may appear on the skin near to the nose or cheeks. Fever or malaise may also be experienced during the prodromal stage.
The second stage is called the blister stage. In this stage, tiny fluid-filled blisters pop up on the surface of the skin. Patches of blisters may disfigure the lips during this time. These blisters rupture after two days, thereby exposing an open wound that later turns to gray. This leads to the next stage, known as the weeping stage.
During this stage, a highly infectious yellowish fluid comes out of the wounds. After a day or two, the wounds will be covered with yellow crusts, which marks the beginning of the scabbing stage. This stage will last for two to three days. The scabs start to break and bleed, and the skin under the scab is pruritic and painful.
When a scab is damaged, it will be followed by a smaller secondary scab. As the scabs begin to settle, the patient undergoes the healing stage. The secondary scab gradually goes away, thereby revealing a pinkish skin that looks like the surrounding unaffected skin.
Natural Remedies for Cold Sores
Although there is no absolute cure for cold sores, treatments can help lessen the duration of cold sores as well as reduce the severity of its symptoms. Home and natural remedies can also help heal a cold sore fast. It is best to begin treatment as soon as the first symptoms appear.
1. Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract has been a proven natural remedy for cold sores. A pure and real vanilla extract helps lessen the length and severity of outbreaks. It is recommended to start using vanilla extract the moment the tingling sensation sets in. Using vanilla extract does help to alleviate the symptoms of these cold sores and can even speed up the process of healing.
Soak a cotton swab into the vanilla extract. Apply it directly on the sore for a minute or so. You can do this three to four times a day until the sores heal.
Ice helps in reducing the inflammation and discomfort caused by cold sores. Simply apply a cold pack on the sores to achieve a temporary relief. Moreover, an ice pack can soothe the affected area, allowing for a temporary relief from the symptoms.
Milk helps fight off herpes simplex virus as it contains proteins such as immunoglobulins. It also contains L-lysine, which can help speed up the healing process. Drinking whole milk can help you get these benefits. In addition, applying a milk compress on the sore can fight off the virus and soothe the pain. And even if you are not keen on drinking milk, applying a milk compress can go a long way to soothe the pain and heal the sores fast.
4. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil helps to directly kill the virus that’s outside of the cells. When a cold sore has erupted, apply peppermint oil directly on the sore to help it heal faster than usual. This particular oil can actually help to prevent the cold sores from spreading to other areas of your body, and even infecting others.
Cornstarch is a good home remedy for cold sores because it neutralizes the pH level of the sores. To reduce pain and the duration of cold sores, make a cornstarch paste. Apply the paste on the sore and leave it overnight. Gently rinse off the paste the next day. Making the paste is simple enough, take some corn starch powder, add some water to it and make it into a paste. Now you are all set and all you would need to do is to apply the paste to the affected area overnight and wash it off later on in the morning. But remember to wash your hands with disinfectant after you have applied the paste to the affected area.
6. Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera has been a go-to home remedy for many kinds of health conditions including skin problems. The gel of the aloe vera can provide a quick pain relief caused by the blisters of cold sores. Aloe vera also fights off bacteria that can irritate the sores. Just apply the gel on the sore until it heals. Aloe vera is also a very good moisturizer as it can help to alleviate the symptoms and pain associated with cold sores.
Studies have shown that lysine helps prevent future breakouts. This amino acid is available as a cream or supplement. Besides all of the above-mentioned remedial measures, maintaining a proper hygiene should be given of primary importance. Lysine is one of those few medicines that can actually help prevent your condition from recurring again. But practicing good hygiene goes a long way to ensuring that you do not get cold sores again.
8. Stress Reduction
Stress is one of the triggering factors for cold sore breakouts. Thus, managing stress can directly help the reduction of future breakouts and can even help prevent one from happening.
There are various exercises that you can use to help alleviate stress, from yoga to meditation. Stress often acts as a trigger which can cause your cold sores to break out immediately. Apart from stress, there are other factors which can stress your body, leading to the virus breaking out in the form of blisters and cold sores.
Picking the sores can be really tempting. However, as much as possible, resist touching the sores. Touching them very often can lead to a bacterial infection, which can only worsen the condition. Touching the sores can also spread the virus to other parts of the body such as the eyes. These things must be avoided as the virus is highly contagious. Always remember to not bother your sores so they will not also bother you. And remember to use a disinfectant each time you touch the affected area directly with your hands.
Apart from infecting other parts of your body with it, you may also infect other common use objects in the room like the TV remote. So to limit others exposure to the disease, do wash your hands with a disinfectant after having touched your face.
Cold sores, How to avoid spreading it?
- Avoid kissing - If you happen to suffer from cold sores and have open oozing blisters on and around your mouth, avoid kissing anyone since it can be easily transmitted that way. So whether you are just going for a peck or for a deeper kiss, it is better to avoid it altogether till your condition improves for the better. Consult your physician for some immediate pain relief and general ‘not to do’ list and you will find kissing being featured right at the top of such a list.
- Avoid sharing food – Sharing the same sandwich or other food items can pass on your cold sores to others. Having these sores is bad enough as it is without having to pass it on to others. So try to avoid sharing food with others, until your cold sores clear up.
- Do not share razors – Naturally this is to be avoided even when not suffering from cold sores for the simple reason that sharing razors is never healthy. Nevertheless, this is something you would definitely want to avoid when suffering from cold sores.
- Sharing soap and other toiletries – Whether you are sharing the lipstick or a toothbrush with someone, it is a good idea to avoid doing so until your cold sores completely disappears. Cold sores are extremely contagious so sharing toiletries or even beauty products with others will lead to others getting infected with the same.
- Wet towels – Cold sores are caused by a virus and wet towels are the perfect medium. So if you have cold sores keep your towels separate and inform others regarding your condition and not to use your towels since they would end up being infected with cold sores. And remember to check in with a physician and monitor your progress until the cold sores disappear altogether.
- Disinfect your hands – Chances are that you often touch and caress the affected area with your fingers since the cold sores will be causing you some discomfort. And if you happen to touch other objects in your home after touching your cold sores, then you are only spreading the virus. And this in turn will lead to others getting these cold sores once they become infected on picking up these objects. Try and use a disinfectant each time you touch the cold sores with your hands.
- No oral sex – Cold sores are caused by a virus that can also affect your genital area. So if you happen to suffer from cold sores, it may be a good idea to avoid oral sex or for that matter, being intimate with your partner till your condition clears up.
- Use hot water – One of the effective ways to kill the virus is by using hot boiling water. So make sure that you wash all the utensils you use, for cooking in boiling hot water. The same applies to your clothes as well. By washing your clothes and utensils in hot water, you are effectively sterilizing the same.
- Avoid stress and other triggers – One of the most daunting aspects of cold sores is that the virus can remain dormant for years in your body until a certain trigger causes a breakout. These triggers can be undue stress, sudden surgery, and hormonal imbalance among others. So do consult your physician at the earliest and try to understand what triggers can cause a fresh outbreak and learn to avoid the same.
- Treatment – While there is no permanent cure against cold sores, you can opt for various treatment options, from using hydrocortisone to others to treat the same. Cold sore blisters if left untreated can stay put for nearly two weeks. But you can take some preventive measures by taking the required treatment the moment you start to feel the blisters breaking out. Early preventive measures can severely curtail the duration of these sores and if you are not sure whether you have a cold sore or not, call in on your physician for a more expert diagnosis.