Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, usually appear around the lips, nose and chin. The condition is quite common as well as contagious.
The problem is caused by the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) and is highly contagious, especially when the blisters are oozing fluid. However, the virus does not always cause sores and may even stay dormant permanently.
Factors like emotional stress, fatigue, hormonal changes (especially during menstruation), fever, trauma to the skin, and exposure to strong sunlight tend to reactivate the virus and contribute to outbreaks.
The virus spreads through direct contact with an infected individual or through saliva, even when the person does not have blisters. It is believed that as much as 90% of the adult population worldwide is infected with this virus.
Cold sore outbreaks are characterized by small, painful blisters around the lips or the edge of the mouth. They can also appear under the nose. You are likely to experience a tingling or burning sensation around the lips or nose a day or two before the blisters erupt. They eventually burst, ooze fluid, and crust over.
These sores usually go away on their own within a week or so. Nevertheless, you can use some simple home cures as soon as you experience the telltale tingling to reduce the duration of an outbreak and ease the discomfort.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for cold sores.
Ice helps reduce the swelling, redness, and pain caused by a cold sore.
- Wrap an ice cube in a clean washcloth.
- Place it over your cold sore for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat this every three to four hours.
Garlic has enzymes that work as antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agents that help treat cold sores. In addition, it acts as an anti-inflammatory and reduces swelling and inflammation.
- Cut a garlic clove into halves.
- Crush one-half and apply it on the affected area.
- Leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat the process three to five times a day.
Warning: You may feel a burning sensation when applying raw garlic on the blister-like lesions.
3. Acetone Nail Polish Remover
Believe it or not, many people have actually tried this remedy and even found it effective. Acetone is believed to help dry out a cold sore.
- Dip a cotton ball in acetone nail polish remover.
- Dab it on the cold sore.
- Do this several times a day, preferably once an hour.
4. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is great for disinfecting and drying up the sore.
- Dip a cotton ball or cotton swab in 3% hydrogen peroxide solution.
- Apply it on your cold sore and leave it on for a few minutes.
- Do this every few hours.
5. Licorice Root
This herb prevents and treats cold sores. It has an active ingredient called glycyrrhizin with antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Mix one tablespoon of licorice root powder and one-half teaspoon of water. Apply it on your cold sore using a cotton swab or your fingertip (make sure your hands are clean), and leave it on for a few hours. Do this several times a day.
- You can also have licorice root tea or supplements.
If you are prone to cold sores, eat this herb on a regular basis to help minimize outbreaks. If you have high blood pressure, avoid taking licorice root as it raises blood pressure and leads to low levels of potassium.
Studies have found that taking lysine on a regular basis can help prevent cold sores due to its antiviral effects. Lysine is an essential amino acid that blocks the activity of another amino acid called arginine, which promotes replication of the herpes simplex virus.
- Take 1,000 to 1,500 mg L-Lysine supplements daily to help keep the herpes virus dormant. During an outbreak, take 1,000 mg three times a day. You can also use creams, but oral lysine is considered more effective.
- Include meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, soybeans, and other protein-rich foods in your diet as they are good sources of lysine.
7. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, speeds up the healing process, soothes discomfort, and prevents the infection from spreading. It contains tannins and polyphenolic compounds that contribute to its antiviral effects.
- Steep one to two teaspoons of dried lemon balm leaves in one liter of hot water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink three to four cups of this herbal tea daily.
- Alternatively, you can apply lemon balm tea or essential oil on your cold sore three to five times a day.
8. Cold Milk
Whole milk contains immunoglobulins that inhibit the virus that causes cold sores. Plus, it has a type of fat known as monocaprin with antiviral effects. Furthermore, cold milk soothes the tingling sensation and discomfort.
- Soak a cotton ball in cold, whole milk.
- Apply it on the affected area and leave it on for about 10 minutes.
- Do this once or twice a day.
Apart from applying, drinking whole milk is also beneficial as it contains lysine.
Echinacea is a powerful herb that bolsters the immune system and has antiviral effects. A study by the University of Ottawa found Echinacea extract to be active against the herpes simplex virus-1.
- Dab Echinacea liquid extract on the affected area.
- You can also drink Echinacea tea, or take it in the form of tincture or capsules.
Warning: Avoid long-term use of this herb; do not take it for more than eight weeks. It may also interact with certain medications, so consult your doctor before taking Echinacea.
10. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antiviral properties that can help treat cold sores and shorten the healing time.
- Dilute tea tree oil by adding three parts of water to one part of tea tree oil. Dip a cotton ball in the oil and apply it on your cold sore three times a day.
- Alternatively, you can combine tea tree oil with an equal amount of olive oil and a little eucalyptus oil. Apply it two to three times a day.
If your cold sores recur frequently, do not heal within two weeks, or you experience severe symptoms or irritation in the eyes, see your doctor. More often than not, cold sores heal without scarring.