As soon as I begin to feel an itchy, tingly sensation on my lips, I know what is about to develop: a painful cold sore. Also known as herpes labialis, a cold sore is a group of tiny, red, fluid-filled blisters that form near the mouth or sometimes on other areas of the face. Despite the name, they are not caused by a cold, they are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1(HSV-1). They are painful and uncomfortable, and I often spend a lot of time trying to conceal a cold sore because let’s be honest, they are not a pretty sight and make me feel embarrassed.
Approximately 90% of people from all over the world will have at least one form of HSV. The symptoms are the most severe the very first time you get cold sores. With each re-occurrence, they are still painful, but most likely will never be as severe as the first time you had them. After the first outbreak of a cold sore, your body will make antibodies and if you are one of the lucky few, you will never have another infection. Unfortunately, I was not one of the lucky few and I suffer from cold sores on the regular. Whether it is the first infection you are experiencing or a re -occurrence, it may be helpful for you to know how to get rid of cold sores – the natural way.
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Understanding Cold Sores
Cold sores are mostly caused by the herpes simplex virus which can be contracted when you encounter an infected person’s skin or their body fluids. The virus causes damage to your skin as it reproduces and leaves behind painful sores that weep fluid. The blisters can last between one week and two weeks and in between reoccurring outbreaks, the HSV-1 hides inside the cells of your nerves: this means you will never be completely cured of the virus, but it can be managed.
Not everyone will encounter cold sores, only about two-thirds of us will be infected with the HSV-1 virus, usually as a result of kissing, or intimacy with an infected person. It may also be because of your genes. Research is ongoing but many people who experience reoccurring cold sores share genes that may relate to how the HSV-1 virus reacts in your body.
Cold sores may also bring with them fever, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle aches. If you are experiencing a cold sore for the first time then you may also experience a burning sensation inside your mouth, a sore throat, an upset stomach, headaches, and pain when swallowing.
What triggers cold sores and HSV-1 activation?
Once cold sores have healed, the virus will lie dormant in the body, living in your nerves. New sores will appear when the virus is reactivated. Certain triggers will cause the virus to become active again or initiate a first-time cold sore if you have never had one before. The triggers include:
1. Weak immune system, such as during a period of illness or shortly after recovery. An infection, fever, or a cold will also trigger cold sores.
2. Sun exposure
5. A visit to the dentist for a dental procedure.
7. Severe burns
9. Certain foods
Remember you can carry the virus and never have visible blisters; this is especially the case if you come into contact with the saliva of an infected person.
Treatment to get rid of cold sores
There are a variety of natural treatments available to help get rid of those troublesome little blisters. Below are some helpful home remedies that will help ease cold sores naturally.
1. Ice and Cold Water
Apply a washcloth that has been soaked in cold water or ice to the sores to shorten the duration of a cold sore. Once the tingling or burning sensation starts (before the formation of a blister), apply ice or a cold compress to the area to alleviate pain and inflammation, and to prevent the blister from developing. If you have a blister already, the ice will help reduce the redness and swelling.
2. Aloe Vera
A cooling gel layer can be found within the succulent plant Aloe Vera. The gel-like substance offers soothing, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties that help heal the skin and the blisters quickly. Apply Aloe Vera gel to the infected area three times a day until the lesion has dried.
3. Witch Hazel
This is a natural astringent herb that helps dry out and heal cold sores. The anti-viral properties of the herb may inhibit the spread of the cold sore blisters, even though you may experience a stinging sensation with topical application. Studies have shown that witch hazel can reduce the size of the blisters because of its natural anti-inflammatory properties. Apply witch hazel directly to the infected area using a moistened cotton ball. Using light pressure, hold it onto your skin, and be careful not to rub. Continue using the herb until the area has completely healed.
Lysine is a herbal supplement that can be taken orally or as a topical treatment for cold sores. It is an essential amino acid that the body needs but does not produce naturally. Lysine can be found in foods that are high in protein such as beef, chicken, lamb, oysters, prawns, soybeans, and fenugreek seed. The amino acid helps prevent the outbreak of cold sores because it limits the activity of arginine: the amino acid the herpes simplex virus needs to replicate. Lysine also boosts the immune system, aids cell repair, and has anti-viral properties. 1,000mg a day of lysine helps ward off cold sores as well as manages the inflammation when you do get one since it suppresses the virus. Personally, this one is my favourite.
5. Less Foods Containing Arginine
As mentioned, arginine is the amino acid that the virus needs to replicate. Deprive the herpes simplex virus of the essential nutrient and it will be starved and unable to replicate. Without arginine ‘feeding’ the virus, your cold sores will be able to heal faster. The following foods contain the amino acid and should be avoided if you have a cold sore:
- – Peanuts and other nuts
- – Legumes
- – Whole grains
- – Chocolate
6. Vitamin C
Taking 200mg of Vitamin C a day will speed up the healing time of an existing cold sore, if you feel the tingly sensation of one starting then take 1000mg to prevent the outbreak. Vitamin C is a great natural remedy that helps treat and prevent cold sores: a recent study was conducted in a test tube where Vitamin C inactivated the herpes virus successfully. Vitamin C alone is not as effective as when it is combined with bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids are part of the Vitamin C complex and are present in the peels of citrus foods, including oranges and grapefruit.
7. Licorice Root
Licorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid which is an antiviral that helps speed up the healing time of cold sores. The antiviral properties help prevent an outbreak of cold sores and prevent the virus from replicating. The antibacterial properties inhibit the function of bacteria. Studies have also shown that licorice exhibits antifungal activity too. Licorice root cream is available to apply topically to the infected area with cold sores.
Zinc oxide is an odourless, white powder that occurs naturally in the mineral zincite. Applying topical zinc oxide cream to the infected area helps shorten the duration of the cold sores. A study conducted in 2001 showed that cold sores that were treated with zinc oxide cream went away one-and-a-half days sooner than those exposed to the treatment with placebo.
Foods that are high in zinc, such as chickpeas, lamb, and pork may also reduce the number of outbreaks of cold sores and help boost your immunity.
Natural healing, not all hope is lost
Cold sores are painful, may cause other side effects, and are highly contagious. Knowing that they are caused by the herpes simplex virus does not offer any comfort either since there is no cure for the virus and future outbreaks may be common. Various triggers may ignite an outbreak but since prevention is always better than cure, try boosting your immune system to prevent further occurrences of cold sores. Eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants, like spinach, kale, berries, and tomatoes. Foods rich in Vitamin B will also help boost your immunity so include some beans, eggs, spinach, and broccoli in your diet. Try managing your stress levels and increase your Vitamin C intake at times of stress or when you know you will experience a fluctuation in your hormone levels, especially for women approaching their menstrual cycles.
With so many natural remedies available to help you get rid of cold sores, and prevent outbreaks, the virus has become a lot easier to manage. The best suggestion is to start treatment immediately at the first onset of symptoms to help ease any new outbreaks. When applying topical applications, use a cotton wool ball to dab the treatment onto the infected cold sores and wash your hands afterwards. Touching a cold sore directly and rubbing or touching your eyes can transfer the virus and may cause blindness. If you experience eye irritation, consult a doctor immediately.
Leave a comment below and let me know if you would consider any of these natural treatments.
Until next time